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Laurence Bassini 'evasive' and made 'empty threats', court told
Laurence Bassini was accused of being "evasive" and making "empty threats" by the barrister representing the Russo brothers.
Summing up his final arguments at the High Court on Thursday, Nicholas Stewart QC said the Stanmore businessman had shown "extreme shabbiness" around money and that £3.6million given to him by the brothers before and after he bought Watford FC were straightforward loans.
The Russos’ case is that they met with Mr Bassini in early 2011 and discussed a number of ways they could be involved with his planned takeover of the club. Among the possibilities they looked at were becoming secret 50 per cent owners with him.
However the Jimmy and Vince Russo, both former directors at Watford FC, said they dismissed the idea after receiving financial advice, which warned against it on the grounds they were already shareholders in the club.
The brothers said in the end they lent Mr Bassini £3.5million in an interest-free, unsecured loan in February 2011 as a "working capital" facility for the club. They said the money was deposited with Mr Bassini’s solicitor, Angelo Barrea, and only meant to be accessed with their permission.
The brothers said a deed of trust, which stipulated that Mr Bassini would hold 50 per cent of the shares in the club for them on trust, was simply a "comfort" document. They said it meant in the case of non-repayment of the loans it would allow them to recoup the sums for any future sale of the club.
The Russos also said they lent £135,000 to Mr Bassini in April 2011 after a request from him to help with "cash flow" problems at the club.
The brothers said two letters from their company, Valley Grown Salads, which made sham offers for Watford in an attempt to convince potential buyers that the club was worth between £20 and £25 million, were composed at the request of Mr Bassini.
They also said in 2012 Mr Bassini agreed to pay interest of 5 per cent on the two sums he borrowed as he was unable to repay them.
In his summing up, Mr Stewart said the deed of trust had not been created when the loan agreement was signed.
He added: "What we say in a nutshell is that Mr Bassini fails because that £3.5 million was paid and accepted as a loan. And when the £3.5million was transferred to Mr Barrea there was no arrangement that VGS would acquire any shares in (parent companies) Watford Leisure or Watford Ltd"
Former Watford FC investor and shareholder, Lord Ashcroft.
Mr Stewart defended an email in which Jimmy Russo and the secretary of his company, Robin Williams, discussed making life "uncomfortable" for Lord Ashcroft’s man on the Watford FC board, Andrew Wilson.
The pair had discussed insisting the voting on Mr Bassini’s offer for the club be held in a way that would give them final say. They also discussed the prospect of "embarrassing" the board by asking why they had rejected an offer to buy the club for three times as much from the Russos the year before.
Mr Stewart added: "What they are doing here, they do have a beef. They have got a real beef with some people at Watford as they feel hard done by and they don’t shrink from getting their own back in the same way."
The court was told that any plans for serious Russo involvement in the Bassini regime were killed after Mr Williams spoke to financial advisor, David Floyd, who warned against it.
Mr Stewart said: "What you get is the killer blow about entering into a transaction of this kind at all. It becomes a dead duck."
Vince (white shirt) and Jimmy (pink shirt) at Vicarage Road for the 2008 play-off against Hull City FC.
The Russos’ barrister finished his representations by addressing the issue of Mr Bassini’s credibility as a witness.
Mr Stewart pointed out Mr Bassini had transferred around £600,000 out of his accounts on the day the Russos secured a freezing injunction on his assets.
He described this as a "starting at a position of extreme shabbiness in first and last in relation to money."
Mr Stewart added: "He (Mr Bassini) was evasive on a number of issues, even on what he had been doing the last few years (before he bought Watford) and suggested involvement in the family business."
He said Mr Bassini had made a number of accusations about conspiracies against him without providing any evidence. Among these were that the Russos still secretly owned half Watford FC with the Pozzo family and were orchestrating a campaign against him.
Mr Stewart also dismissed Mr Bassini’s claim that he had a secret recording of conversations with the Russos which would stand up his side of the case.
He added: "Your lordship can conclude there never was any recording. It is just empty threats. It is just lies".
Mr Bassini, who had been in court for the whole trial, left before the end after complaining of feeling dizzy following a slip on the High Court stairs.
The judge is due to return a decision in the next few weeks.
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