A FRENCH gangster with mafia connections is at the centre of a probe into alleged dodgy transfers involving Premier League clubs after last week’s tax raids, The Sun on Sunday can reveal.
Shadowy Jean-Luc Barresi is linked to the moves of at least 15 players including Chelsea star Cesar Azpilicueta, ex-Liverpool ace Fernando Morientes, French ace Loic Remy and former Manchester United player Gabriel Heinze.
The gangster had “the walk” of French giants Olympique Marseille, which is at the centre of tax probe that saw HMRC officers raid the offices of West Ham and Newcastle earlier this week.
Barresi is accused of illegally pocketing 440,000 euros (£371,000) from two players move to English clubs from scandal-hit French club Olympic Marseille.
An unnamed English agent is said to have been paid 550,000 euros (£464,000) when Morgan Amalfitano moved to West Brom on loan in 2013 before the midfielder signed for West Ham the following year.
Barresi – who was convicted of racketeering in 2012 and has an elder brother serving ten-year prison term for trying to hijack an armoured car – is alleged to have been given a 389,000 euro (£328,000) backhander by the agent.
Court papers in France also claim the same agent was paid 220,000 euros (£185,000) when Hatem Ben Arfa moved to Newcastle United in 2011.
Barresi is said to have received 50,000 euros (£42,000) from the agent as part of the deal.
In total, he is estimated to have had his hand in transfers of Marseille players to the tune of between 63 and 72 million euros – or £53 to £60 million.
Other transfers being investigated by the authorities include striker Loic Remy’s move to Queens Park Rangers from Marseille.
The striker then went on loan to Newcastle United before moving to Chelsea.
He is now on loan at Premier League club Crystal Palace.
Manchester United ace Gabriel Heinze is also linked to the scandal having moved to Marseille after leaving Old Trafford for Real Madrid in 2009.
The transfer of defender Stephane Mbia, who signed for QPR in 2012 from Marseille, is also subject to scrutiny.
Barresi is also suspected of having a hand in the move of Spanish striker Fernando Morientes, who joined Marseille from Valencia in 2009 after winning the Uefa Super Cup with Liverpool in 2005.
Spanish defender Azpilicueta, who is set to win the league with Chelsea this year, is also thought to have had dealings with Barresi.
Other players involved in transfer dealings connected to Barresi involving Marseille players between 2009 and 2012 include Souleymane Diawara, who once played for Charlton Athletic.
Fraud investigators believe the 700,000 euros (£588,000) his agent received when Diawara signed for Marseille in 2009 were “redistributed” to “feed thugs”.
Other players involved in transfers being looked at include former Marseille players Mamadou Niang, Andre-Pierre Gignac, Benoit Cheyrou, Lucho Gonzalez, Fabrice Abriel, Jeremy Morel, Vitorino Hilton and Charles Kabore.
Barresi was arrested last year and charged with fraud and money-laundering after decades of transfer deals involving Marseille.
There is no suggestion any of the players involved in a transfer which involved Baressi are suspected of any wrongdoing.
According to witnesses Baressi had “the run” of the club and played a central role in transfers.
Former Olympic Marseille Director General Antoine Veyrat told the authorities he never sought “to quibble” with Baressi, “given his reputation”.
Barresi’s childhood friend Jose Anigo, who has previously acted as manager and director at the French club, is also charged with wrongdoing.
Anigo’s son Adrian was a suspected jewel thief and died after being shot in a gangland killing.
Former club president Vincent Labrune is also alleged to have provided a witness statement in which he complained of a “foul atmosphere” at the club, where he felt subject to “pressure and the fear of reprisals” if he did not go along with deals.
Labrune told a judge: “There are a lot of constraints. Financial problems. But there is also the foul surroundings that surround the club. I was in an environment that frightened me: I heard that members of the mafia gravitated around the club, that some agents were not clean.”
And current French national team manager Didier Deschamps – who played for Chelsea during his glittering career – also gave evidence as he managed Marseille for three years from 2009.
He said as soon as he arrived in Marseille, he was taken to a hotel where he met “local people” and it was explained to him that he needed to “feed the pigs”.
Deschamps admitted he knew of Barresi because he was “part of the local landscape” but claimed he ignored him, adding “All I know is he’s linked to Marseille”.
Baressi denies any wrongdoing and his lawyer has previously claimed “we can explain to the last penny” regarding contracts.
The probe in France started several months ago but cops have now linked up with tax officials in police in the UK.
Four agents in France are believed to be being investigated.
Earlier this week, both the offices of Newcastle United and West Ham were raided by 180 HMRC officers while Chelsea FC are also co-operating.
The raids are believed to have been sparked by striker Demba Ba’s transfer from West Ham to Newcastle in 2011.
A source told The Sun: “There is a large focus on the movements of players between France and England from 2011 onwards. French authorities are assisting.”
At a recent parliamentary hearing the HMRC said 43 players, 12 teams and eight agents were being investigated.
They said the probe was looking at “the potential abuse” of the rules relating to image rights.
It described the image rights issue as “the most significant tax risk among footballers”.