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Russos' interest in Watford Football Club was genuine, judge says
The Russo brothers helped bring about the Pozzo family takeover of Watford FC after losing patience with former Hornets owner Laurence Bassini, according to a High Court judge.
Mr Justice Spencer said Vince and Jimmy Russo initiated talks with a “prospective purchaser for the club in Spain” after the Stanmore businessman failed to start repaying £3.6 million they had paid him.
At the time, January 2012, Gino Pozzo was living in Barcelona and the judge said these talks eventually led to the sale of the club.
The revelation emerged in the judge’s ruling on the Sicilian brothers’ dispute with Mr Bassini over money they paid the Stanmore businessman before and during his tenure at the club.
The judgement said: “It was now obvious [by January 2012] that the only way in which the monies would ever be forthcoming from Mr Bassini was through the sale of the club.
“The Russo brothers approached a prospective purchaser in Spain, and negotiations for the sale of the club were effectively taken over by the Russo brothers and (their advisor) Mr Williams.
“Suffice it to say that eventually the sale of the club was agreed at a much reduced £550,000. However, the public house at the club [the Red Lion] was not part of the sale.”
The judgement also shed more light on the events leading up to the Russos becoming involved with Mr Bassini’s plans for Watford FC.
It said Mr Bassini learned in 2010 the club “had to be sold quickly” and asked a solicitor, Angelo Barrea, for help. Mr Barrea had done legal work for Mr Bassini before, helping him with his divorce, and was keen to get into football.
The link with the Russo brothers came through a long-standing friend of theirs, Gino Magistro.
The judgement said: “The Russo brothers and Mr Magistro go back a long way. Their respective parents came to this country from Sicily at the same time and the children all grew up together in the same close-knit Italian community in Hoddesdon.”
Mr Magistro had a successful horticultural business in the 1980s and Mr Barrea’s father had been one of his employees.
The judgement added: “Mr Magistro had known him [Mr Barrea] since he was a boy and considered him trustworthy.”
In about November 2010, Mr Barrea asked Mr Magistro if he knew the Russo brothers, and on discovering he did, asked if Mr Magistro could set up a meeting with them.
“This background is important because, as Jimmy Russo explained in evidence, in the Italian community a great deal of importance is attached to the reputation and good name of anyone recommended by another member of the community.”
This initiated the series of meetings between the Russos and Mr Bassini in late 2010 and early 2011, which led to them paying him £3.5 million just before he bought the club.
The judgement also said the initial discussions between the parties for the takeover were called “Project Luther” after Watford FC legend Luther Blissett.
The judge was critical of the Russos’ behaviour when they provided letters to Mr Bassini in October and December 2011 making offers for the Watford FC in the region of £20 to £25 million.
These were requested by Mr Bassini so he could show them to prospective buyers of the club to try to drive up its price.
The judge described the letters as “undoubtedly dishonest documents” and said they “reflected badly” on the brothers and their advisor, Robin Williams.
However, Judge Spencer dismissed Mr Bassini’s trial allegations that Jimmy Russo was only interested in Watford FC as it was a “money machine” and that he was really a Chelsea fan.
He concluded: “Jimmy Russo undoubtedly has strong emotional ties with the club, as he himself said. There was, I am quite sure, a genuine desire on his part (and his brother’s) to provide assistance to the club, both practical and financial.”
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