Intermediaries claiming to be acting on behalf of a Dubai-based investment group tricked Spanish businesses and even La Liga soccer clubs out of thousands of euros, among them Primera División side Getafe, even using a Brazilian waiter dressed up to look like an Arab sheikh, say Spanish police, who have arrested seven men, including two named as Joan Batalla and Marc Toscas.
The gang met with Getafe president Ángel Torres and other Spanish business owners in return for fees of as much as 20,000 euros, a spokeswoman for the Barcelona-based police force Mossos d'Esquadra.
The story dates back to last year, when Torres traveled to Dubai, and announced that he had agreed to sell the side to the Royal Emirates Group of Companies, led by Sheikh Butti Bin Suhail Al Maktoum. Among the intermediaries was Batalla.
But on April 20 this year, Torres said he'd had no recent contact from the group and the terms of the deal would expire if it didn't meet a payment deadline in May.
I don't know why they've put our pictures in the newspaper"
Around the same time, Batalla told Spanish media: "There is a new, ambitious project. We intend to build a new sports arena, the New Royal Emirates Stadium. Royal Emirates is meeting its payments obligations, and the process will soon be completed. The only parties in this deal not to have been paid are the Batalla Juanola Groups, and we are still owed two million dollars in fees," he added.
Batalla already has a history of fraud and scamming, and was linked to the collapse of the Air Comet airline and property company Fincas Corral.
Royal Emirates has said it still expects the deal to go ahead. Kaiser Rafiq, managing director of Royal Emirates, says the alleged fake-sheikh scam has "nothing to do" with the group.
"I don't know why they've put our pictures in the newspaper" relating to the police investigation, Rafiq says, adding that he is trying to contact Spanish authorities.
On its website, Royal Emirates describes itself as "an emerging leading group with diverse business interests in the local and international markets."
Rafiq said while there was a "deadlock" with Torres over the accord to buy the club, he expects it to go ahead. The impasse is over issues including securing a guarantee of ownership, Rafiq said.
The fraudsters organized business trips to Arab countries with their victims and had a luxurious office in a wealthy Barcelona neighborhood, where photos were found of the fraudsters pictured with influential politicians and King Juan Carlos. They organized meetings in luxurious hotels which were attended by a false sheikh, who was in fact a Brazilian waiter who was paid 50 euros to dress up in Arab robes.
Another soccer side approached by the fraudsters is regional Catalan side Palafrugell. "We signed a sponsorship deal with Batalla Juanola," says Rodolfo Savall, the club's president. He says that he was given 5,000 euros to begin printing soccer shirts with new advertising logos. He adds that Batalla and his fake sheikh were supposedly going to invest up to five million euros in a range of projects and businesses in Spain.
On its website, police posted a picture of a white robe and red-and-white headdress and expensive-looking watches that they seized in the operation. The gang aimed to give an image of "solvency and confidence" to the victims, the police say.
Torres, 60, is on holiday, and the club has no comment about the police investigation, says Getafe spokesman Luz Monzón. Madrid-based Getafe finished 11th in the 20-team La Liga last season.