Phoenix Thoroughbreds founder accused of stealing €100m from global Ponzi scam
Phoenix Thoroughbreds founder Amer Abdulaziz Salman has been named as a key figure in a major money-laundering operation for an international cryptocurrency fraud from which he allegedly stole €100 million before launching his global racehorse ownership enterprise, a US court heard this month.
The stunning claim came during the testimony of Konstantin Ignatov, the co-founder of fake cryptocurrency OneCoin, as part of the trial of US lawyer Mark Scott, who on Thursday was found guilty of fraud and laundering $400m in illegal funds for the OneCoin founders.
The Racing Post has been unable to verify the allegation, made under oath in a New York court, and multiple attempts to contact Abdulaziz for comment over the weekend have been unsuccessful. Abdulaziz's bloodstock agent, Dermot Farrington, is understood to have quit his role after becoming aware of the accusation.
Dubai-based Abdulaziz, 56, launched Phoenix Thoroughbreds in 2017 as the “world’s first regulated thoroughbred fund” and has since become one of the most high-profile figures in international racing and bloodstock, often flexing the significant financial muscle of his fund at the sales and through private purchases.
Ignatov, who pleaded guilty this month to money-laundering and fraud as part of the estimated $4 billion scam, has been cooperating with US prosecutors and alleged Abdulaziz was one of the operation’s web of money-cleaners under the guidance of Gilbert Armenta, boyfriend of OneCoin’s other co-founder Dr Ruja Ignatova.
Asked in court who Armenta worked with, Ignatov said: “Mark Scott, Amer Abdulaziz and Alex Ortega.”
Ignatov went on to claim Abdulaziz stole from the scam, which involved the creation of a fake cryptocurrency that investigators say in fact amounted to a Ponzi scheme.
He said: “Amer Abdulaziz, after he stole €100m from OneCoin, he started buying racehorses for, like, €25m. [He was] one of the main money-launderers for Ruja.”
Ignatov added the theft was not reported as “the money came from a criminal activity”, while Abdulaziz is allegedly named in emails between Ruja Ignatova and her co-conspirators.
The Racing Post has also seen a draft transcript of the September 2018 interview between Mark Scott and FBI agents after he was arrested on suspicion of money-laundering, in which he claimed a Dubai-based investment fund named Phoenix was sent $190m.
In an interview earlier this year, Abdulaziz said he created Phoenix as an equine investment fund geared towards providing investors with a "sustainable return realised through acquisition and breeding of top-quality thoroughbreds" and claimed to have raised $250m.
However, Abdulaziz has never disclosed who his investors are – citing a desire to protect his client base – other than to say they are “non-racing people”. He has talked about his plan to launch a second, larger fund having used the first fund as a promotional tool.
Having initially had horses solely with former Newmarket trainer Jeremy Noseda, Phoenix has since mushroomed to having an estimated 300 horses under its banner, including stallions and broodmares, with 27 trainers on five continents, according to its website.
However, there have been controversies during Phoenix’s time with Noseda. Kerri Radcliffe, Abdulaziz's first bloodstock agent, was fired by him last year and he has since relied on Farrington, the son-in-law of Advertise’s trainer Martyn Meade, for his buying.
Phoenix and Abdulaziz have enjoyed significant success on the racecourse worldwide including Grade/Group 1 wins in the US and Australia, alongside the Royal Ascot victories of Signora Cabello in the 2018 Queen Mary Stakes and Advertise in this year’s Commonwealth Cup, a race in which Forever In Dreams finished second for Phoenix Ladies, a female-only arm of the Phoenix brand created in late 2018 with the aim of increasing the participation of women in racing in the UAE.
The US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, which prosecuted Mark Scott, declined to comment on Sunday when asked if Abdulaziz was a person of interest, while the FBI said it “neither confirms nor denies” having an interest in the Phoenix founder.
Comment has been sought from law enforcement agencies in the UK.
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