Lightning strikes twice for Portsmouth

By Tony HusbandBBC South Today sports editor

Portsmouth supporters thought they followed a club with new beginnings in the summer of 2010, but the Fratton Park saga has remained a story about old faces.

In October 2010, Balram Chainrai became a self-confessed reluctant owner - he had loaned the club around £17m the year before - and taken Fratton Park as security. Protecting that investment was his priority, but South Today asked him at the time if he was the right owner.

"Me, the right owner? No. But I know the right owner is out there and we're going to find him," said Chainrai.

He did eventually find new owners - Convers Sports Initiatives - who agreed a deal to buy the club in the summer of 2011.

The company owned several sports franchises, but Pompey was their first foray into football ownership.

Their main financial backer was Russian Vladimir Antonov. He passed the Football League's owners and directors test, formerly known as the 'fit and proper person's test'.

But Antonov's banking business had been the subject of scrutiny by the Financial Services Authority - who had refused to grant Snoras Bank a licence to operate in the UK. He had also been accused of money laundering but has always denied the allegations.

When South Today asked him about these matters in September last year, Antonov mounted a stern defence of both his activities and those of his Lithuanian-based bank.

"We are just business people," said Antonov. "Those allegations were false and we have done a lot of work to prove that. We openly answered those allegations and the information is available to the public.

"Our main goal is to give supporters confidence that we are stable owners and that we have the passion and money to support the club's long-term vision."

Weeks after this interview, Antonov's bank was placed into administration in Lithuania. He was accused of asset-stripping, arrested and remains on bail pending extradition hearings.

Then, CSI - Antonov's company and Pompey's ultimate owner - was placed into administration.

It also emerged that, although CSI had bought the club from Balram Chainrai, the Hong Kong businessman still had security on the ground, and was owed £17m through his company - Portpin - which is registered in the British Virgin Islands.

Anybody wanting to buy the club would have to address Chainrai's debt and deal with another former owner Alexandre Gaydamak - who owns the land around the ground.

With money running out, wages going unpaid, and Portsmouth in crisis so soon after their 2009 administration, even the Prime Minister was asked to comment.

"Knowing one or two Pompey fans I can certainly understand the idea that they could go and support Southampton is completely incredible and we must do everything we can to keep this friendly rivalry going," said David Cameron in response to a question from Penny Mordaunt, MP for Portsmouth North.

Once again matters were brought to a head by the serving of a winding-up petition by HM Revenue and Customs. Administration looks set to follow.

History has repeated itself, and Portsmouth, the perennial crisis club, are back on all too familiar ground.

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