Dodgy, dodgy FC AK

2008-06-27 00:00

Maritzburg United’s opponents in tomorrow’s National First Division final second leg at Harry Gwala Stadium, FC AK, have a controversial track record in South African football.

FC AK were launched amidst much hype at the beginning of the 2006/07 season after businessman Azziz Kara bought the First Division franchise of Mabopane Young Masters in late 2005. The “AK”, in case the reader was wondering, stands for “Azziz Kara”.

AK bought a number of high-profile PSL players and the team reached the final of the inaugural Baymed Cup for First Division teams, which had been sponsored by Kara’s company, Baymed Medical Aid. They lost to Free State Stars, but it was only afterwards that the wheels really started to fall off.

Baymed went under and the PSL never received the R5,25-million sponsorship. Halfway through the First Division season, Kara’s financial troubles meant he was unable to pay his players their reportedly exorbitant salaries, so they went on strike.

A good proportion of the squad, including current United right-back Peter Petersen and midfielder Sipho Mngomezulu, were given clearances to leave the club by the PSL. Coach Ian Palmer, now the mastermind behind United’s progression to the NFD final, also went on his way. AK finished fifth to reach the play-offs, where they were beaten by AmaZulu.

Apart from the the Baymed sponsorship, Kara is also facing a successful court order by the SA Football Players’ Union for R3 million he still owes 21 of last season’s players.

Despite this, Kara and FC AK were allowed to continue to compete in the NFD this season, where things have just gone from bad to worse. AK won the Inland Stream, leading from start to finish, but this was tarnished by a bribery allegation by Mpumalanga Black Aces that emerged in January.

When Aces continued to make noises, AK threatened to sue for defamation, and in response Mpumalanga produced a 100-page document they claimed backed up their allegation. This led to the PSL Disciplinary Committee’s bribery and corruption case. The NFD final between AK and Coastal winners United, originally to be played on May 3 and 10, was suspended indefinitely.

AK were found guilty by the DC and Kara banned from soccer for 30 years and fined R500 000, with AK booted down to the Vodacom Second Division. After going to the Safa Appeals Board and then arbitration, Kara’s ban was was reduced to 10 years, he was fined R750 000 and AK had no points deducted, meaning they could compete in the play-off final.

The allegations and intrigue surrounding the case could have come out of soapie Isidingo.

The PSL and Aces alleged that a former FC AK employee, Stranger Oliphant, deposited R10 000 into the bank account of Mpumalanga goalkeeper Michael Babale in the week before the team’s fixture against AK, and produced bank deposit slips to that effect. Babale testified he was to receive a further R10 000 after throwing the game.

Kara’s legal team reportedly responded that the AK owner had a running battle with Babale since the previous season about outstanding salary money and two games they alleged the goalkeeper threw when playing for AK. Oliphant was alleged to have solicited Babale to throw the games.

Kara claimed Oliphant and Babale were conspiring against him. He also waged a media campaign claiming a conspiracy against him by Safa president Molefi Oliphant, a former business partner, and PSL chairman Irvin Khoza.

This could not save the AK owner from a guilty verdict, though, and speculation has been that promotion to the PSL remains the one lifeline in football for the embattled administrator, who was present at the first leg in Eldorado Park despite his ban.

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