Blackpool FC majority owner Owen Oyston has denied concocting claims that club president Valeri Belokon said he’d be dead in 12 months when they fell out over the Latvian millionaire’s demand for equal shares in the club.
Mr Oyston said the “traumatic” threats, including another prediction his son Karl, chairman of the club, would be “dead in two years”, were made when he met Mr Belokon for dinner at Claridges Hotel in London.
Mr Oyston denied accusations by a QC representing Mr Belokon that the threats were “concocted” and said they were “absolutely not made up”.
The Oystons are involved in a bitter five-week legal battle in London with banker Mr Belokon. Mr Belokon is accusing father and son of improperly extracting millions of pounds from the club following the Seasiders’ cash-rich promotion to the Premier League in 2010.
Mr Belokon’s lawyers say the family have alienated and angered fans by using the club as their “personal cash machine”, and the death threat allegations are a bid to tarnish Mr Belokon’s reputation as he challenges their activities in court.
During cross-examination on day 13 of the case, Mr Oyston insisted the death threats from an “agitated and resentful” Mr Belokon had occurred.
He said he was uncertain about the date of the dinner because around that time “I spent a great deal of time at Claridges”, though it was at the time of the club’s short-lived promotion to the Premier League.
Mr Oyston told Mr Justice Marcus Smith there had been informal chats for a while, “then I noticed things were very tense. I noticed he (Mr Belokon) was upset.
“As he drank more, he effectively demanded I should give him 50% of the shares and I said that would effectively give him control of the club, as 3% are owned by small shareholders.
“He said, ‘No, I want those shares’. It was out of character.
“So I asked him what he was going to pay for them. He stared at me, it was quite intimidating.
“As the evening wore on, he just suddenly turned to my guest and said to her, ‘Don’t get too attached to Owen, he’ll be dead in 12 months’.
“Then he turned to me and said, ‘Karl will be dead in two years’.”
Mr Oyston asked the judge to allow him not to reveal the identity of his guest in court, saying: “The media will give her a very bad time.”
Mr Oyston said the trio carried on drinking some more, and by the end of the night Mr Belokon was not able to stand.
“The head waiter helped us take him to the toilets downstairs at Claridges. We had a job getting him back up again.”
Mr Oyston said Mr Belokon insisted on taking a taxi to get to his car, but when he got out in the car park was obviously walking very unsteadily and the taxi driver threatened to call the police.
Mr Oyston said they bundled Mr Belokon back into the taxi and returned to Claridges.
He said: “His daughter arrived by car and didn’t seem very happy with me. He got into her car and they drove off.”
Andrew Green QC, cross-examining Mr Oyston on behalf of Mr Belokon, accused father and son of concocting the death threat evidence and suggested the club owner had said a lot more in court than was contained in his written witness statement.
Mr Oyston replied: “I have given you the full picture. It was definitely the way that events took place.”
Mr Green asked, if the threats had caused the trauma claimed by Mr Oyston, “why on earth did you continue drinking with Mr Belokon?”
Mr Oyston said: “He was drunk, not a risk to anybody except to himself.”
When Mr Green suggested that was “just made up”, Mr Oyston said: “Absolutely not made up.”
Mr Green asked why, if the incident was so traumatic, he had he not contacted the police. Mr Oyston said that could have turned the club into “a circus”.
He said: “I thought maybe he doesn’t mean it. I was not absolutely 100% certain.”