The mysterious Qadbak Investments consortium that purchased the Sauber operation off BMW after the German manufacturer announced that it was to withdraw from F1 competition at the end of 2009 may not be the saviour the team had so desperately hoped it would be, reports suggest.
Rumours are starting to do the rounds in the grand prix paddock that Qadbak is perhaps not all that it seems. Understood to be a finance firm – and an organisation that has also recently acquired Notts County football club – it had been believed that behind Qadbak were a couple of wealthy, reclusive Middle Eastern families, and it was on that premise that BMW agreed to the sale.
Now, however, doubts are beginning to surface, with Swiss newspaper Sonntagszeitung
alleging that Qadbak is in fact merely a front for Dubai-based, convicted British fraudster Russell King, who it is claimed is bidding to fund the team off the back of the commercial rights revenue that BMW-Sauber will have benefitted from for finishing sixth in the constructors' title chase in the 2009 F1 World Championship – provided
they are granted an entry for 2010, and subject to Formula One Management (FOM) chief executive Bernie Ecclestone's agreement.
The FIA is due to publish the definitive list of 2010 entrants at the end of November, and as yet Qadbak-Sauber does not figure amongst them – with the place that would have automatically been theirs prior to BMW's departure having in the meantime been allotted to Lotus. Whilst it has been suggested that the delay in what would appear to be a relatively straightforward decision – given Sauber's solid pedigree in F1 since its debut back in 1993 – is the result of protracted legal wrangling over Toyota's withdrawal, others have mused that the governing body is getting cold feet over King's involvement as an advisor.
It is said that the FIA are suspicious both of King's motives and financial backing, and are unwilling to allocate the grid slot to Sauber until they are convinced the money is there to guarantee the future of the Hinwil-based outfit and its hundreds of employees. BMW is similarly understood to be becoming increasingly alarmed at the lack of solid funding behind the deal, which Qadbak states is guaranteed by Bahrain Capital International.
According to The Times
, King was sentenced to two years in prison in 1991 after being found guilty of attempting to obtain money by deception, for an insurance scam in which he faked the theft of a £600,000 Aston Martin that he owned in an effort to claim on the insurance.
He is also reported to have swindled Equipment Rental Finance out of £330,000 when he borrowed the money in order to purchase a Rolls Royce before cancelling the order and pocketing the cash – just one in a string of unpaid loans he is alleged to have taken out on luxury cars. Almost £2 million of his assets are believed to have been frozen by courts in Jersey over unpaid debts, following an investigation into his failing company Belgravia in 2008.
King has been involved in F1 before back in 2002 as part of Essentially Sport – a company that managed the career of recently-crowned world champion Jenson Button – and together with business partner John Byfield, he launched Grand Prix Investments, which two years later put in an offer to buy Jordan Grand Prix with the stated financial support of Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum of Dubai...but that support never materialised and the bid fell through.
Sources close to Crash.net
have also cast doubt over the authenticity of the Qadbak buy-out, with one claiming that other powerful and wealthy Middle Eastern investors had been keen to enter into negotiations but that BMW had been 'so desperate to sell they rushed in' with King. Another added that 'all the Sauber employees are very unhappy with the new management – the only person who is happy is Mario Theissen, who has been offered the job of team principal and shares'.