Laurence Bassini's “casual, expansive and grandiose” manner at the witness stand contributed to a High Court judge ruling against him in the legal battle with the Russo brothers.
Mr Justice Spencer ruled this week the former Watford FC owner had to pay back more than £3.6 million Jimmy and Vince Russo paid him just before and during his tenure at the club.
The judgment left Mr Bassini, who was not in court for the ruling on Tuesday, with a total bill in excess of £4,469,000 to repay, as he was also ordered to pay interest on the initial sums and the Russos costs. The decision came after a four-day trial earlier this month.
During the case, Mr Justice Spencer was told the Russos had paid Mr Bassini £3.5 million just before he took over Watford FC in March 2011.
Then, in May 2011, they paid him a further £135,000. The Russos’ case was the money was straightforward loans paid to Mr Bassini personally to help him run the club. The initial sum, they said, was intended as “working capital” and the smaller amount was requested by Mr Bassini to help with cashflow issues.
The Russos said the loans were initially interest free but then, in April 2012, Mr Bassini agreed to pay 5 per cent interest on the sums to appease the brothers as he had not started repaying them.
Mr Bassini denied the sums were loans and said they were the price of a “sham” deal to give the Russos a secret 50 per cent share of the club.
He said the £3.5 million was the cost of purchasing half the shares in the club’s holding company, which he held on trust for the brothers to keep their involvement hidden.
Mr Bassini also said the £135,000, which was the sum the Russos received for their shares in Watford FC in his buyout, was paid to square the ownership deal.
He denied there had been any discussion with Russos, who are former Watford FC directors, over interest.
In his ruling , Judge Spencer said he was convinced the £3.5million was a loan because of the loan agreement drawn up between the two sides. The judge said this meant the £135,000 was also a loan and he said he believed the discussion over interest had happened in 2012 and thus applied.
He also said large chunks of Mr Bassini’s evidence relied on his then solicitor, Angelo Barrea, who had not given evidence in court.
Mr Justice Spencer said: “It is necessary to recite one final important aspect of the oral evidence, namely matters affecting the credibility of Mr Bassini.”
He started by describing the Stanmore businessman’s behaviour when his assets were frozen.
The judge said: “To say the least, it reflects very badly on Mr Bassini that sums totalling £700,000 were transferred out of his accounts on the very day the freezing order was made.”
The judge commented on accusations Mr Bassini made in his evidence, saying: “In the course of his oral evidence in this trial Mr Bassini on several occasions made wild and unsubstantiated allegations against parties and witnesses.”
He added: “Mr Bassini was equally free with allegations of dishonesty against Jimmy Russo and Mr (Robin) Williams generally, although he repeatedly tempered that by saying he liked the Russo brothers very much.”
The allegations included accusations the Russos still secretly owned half of Watford FC and were acting in league with the current club’s owners, the Pozzo family.
Mr Bassini also claimed there were secret recordings of his conversations with the Russos which stood up his version of events, but that Mr Barrea had them and the pair of them had fallen out.
Judge Spencer added: “The manner in which Mr Bassini gave his evidence was casual, expansive and grandiose. I was surprised and unimpressed that, when confronted with some key documents – for example the loan agreement and the heads of terms – Mr Bassini claimed to have never seen them before, or certainly never studied them, even in preparing for the trial or during the hearing itself.”
He concluded: “I found his evidence on many issues improbable and beyond reason.”
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