A payment of £3.5m from the Russo brothers to Laurence Bassini just before he become owner of Watford FC was for half the shares in the club’s former parent company, according to the Stanmore businessman.
Bassini also said Valley Grown Salads (VGS), which is owned by former Watford directors Jimmy and Vince Russo, made a “bridging loan” to the football club of almost £1m, with the brothers due to receive proceeds from a player sale.
VGS has secured a freezing injunction against Bassini to stop him from disposing of his assets after claiming the ex-Watford owner had not repaid three loans worth £4.6m.
In court documents the Watford Observer secured this week, Jimmy Russo stated VGS agreed to pay Bassini an initial £3.5m as part of a written loan agreement dated February 2. 2011.
However, in his defence, Bassini has accepted a payment was made but has denied it was in the form of a loan.
He claims the sum was for half of his shareholding in Watford FC Limited, which is the company Bassini set up to buy the Vicarage Road Championship club in early 2011.
Bassini has also rejected “in its entirety” VGS’s claim the company transferred the money on February 2, 2011 as part of a loan agreement.
The Stanmore businessman said the sum was transferred to another company, Barrea LLP, and then from there to its “client account in accordance with the arrangement described” (for half of Watford FC Limited’s shares).
The Russos said the loan agreement stated a “note” needed to be given to VGS by Bassini on the loan date (February 2, 2011) as evidence, however they say this was not delivered.
Bassini has agreed the ‘note’ was not provided but has stated “there was never any intention between the parties that the claimant (VGS) was making a loan to the defendant (Bassini)”.
There were two further payments of £135,000 on May 20, 2011 and £959,500 on February 24, 2012. VGS claims the money was provided on the same terms as the initial agreement in February 2011.
However, Bassini has stated the £135,000 figure was in “return of the monies paid by the defendant for the shares held by VGS in Watford Leisure PLC (one of the Hornets’ parent companies) and was in no way associated with the agreement on February 2, 2011”.
The former Watford owner also denied the £959,500 paid was a loan or came under the terms of the 2011 agreement.
Bassini’s defence document states: “This money represented a bridging loan between the claimant and Watford Association Football Club Limited wherein the claimant was due to receive payment from the net proceeds of the sale of a player.
“As such this money was never paid to the defendant. It was paid by the claimant to Watford Association Football Club Limited.”
The Russos said the loan agreement did not state when the money needed to be repaid and that the three sums would be repayable without notice.
Picture: Malcolm Armstrong
However, Bassini’s defence insisted there were no loans between VGS and the Stanmore businessman so no loan provisions existed.
VGS said the loans were initially interest free but it was agreed in April 2012 that Bassini would pay interest of five per cent a year from the date the three loans were made.
Bassini reiterated the monies were not loans but investment in Watford FC Limited.
The former owner confirmed the Russos did send three separate letters demanding immediate repayment of the loans and interest they claimed was owed on May 15, 2012 but stated the money had not been paid because he insisted it was not a loan.
VGS has claimed Bassini owes the salad company £243,434 in interest that had been accrued on the loans up until May 15, 2012 and the former owner was accruing a daily rate of £662.73. Bassini has rejected this in full.
The Russos have said they will claim an interest rate, and for a period of time the court sees fit either “further or alternatively”, to the interest already accrued.
VGS is also claiming costs and further or other relief.
The interim order freezing Bassini’s assets was made on December 14 at the Queens Bench Division of the High Court of Justice ahead of a court hearing that is expected to take place later this month.
- In a statement sent to the Watford Observer yesterday (Thursday) afternoon, Bassini’s solicitors said he would be “vigorously defending” the claims made by VGS and will shortly be making an application to discharge the freezing order.