Former Welsh international footballer Mark Aizlewood is believed to be among three men arrested in dawn raids by 70 police and fraud officers probing an alleged £1.6m plot to defraud the government’s Skills Funding Agency by inflating the number of football coaching apprenticeships overseen.
Aizlewood, who played for Charlton Athletic in the 1980s and Bristol City in the early 1990s, was among four director-shareholders of Luis Michael Training (LMT), a firm set up three years ago to enrol, assess and verify numbers of young people working on apprenticeships and NVQs in community sport, mainly through football clubs and coaching companies.
Previously confronted with allegations of alleged irregularities around LMT’s dealings with further education colleges, all associated with the company had insisted they were blameless. The Serious Fraud Office on Wednesday night gave a provisional estimate of £1.6m for the fraudulent claims suspected to have been made by LMT. Three men arrested and questioned have been released on unconditional bail.
Some £6m of government funds had been poured into the football coaching scheme through the Skills Funding Agency. Overseen by Newport-based LMT, the scheme developed links to clubs such as Leeds, Millwall and Nottingham Forest. LMT was subject to a compulsory winding-up order last October, brought on behalf of Sparholt College in Hampshire. Last accounts show Chepstow-based Aizlewood’s consultancy firm had charged LMT £133,257 in fees.
Geoff Russell, chief executive of the Skills Funding Agency, announced in February that he was to step down this summer. The agency is facing mounting allegations that public money has been misused by a number of training providers. A year ago Russell wrote to skills minister John Hayes warning such activity was “likely to increase in the context of funding challenges and greater levels of sub-contracting”.
This week the government ended a welfare-to-work contract with Sheffield-based A4e, and an eighth person was arrested on Monday in connection with a fraud investigation into activities at the firm’s office in Slough, Berkshire.
The Serious Fraud Office, which is involved in the investigation because it involves public funds, said: “It is suspected that LMT produced false documentation, including registration papers, progress reviews and coaching examination certificates to falsely show to further education colleges and examining boards that training and apprenticeship placements had been successfully achieved and completed.
“Through the colleges, LMT received payment for each apprentice enrolled and placed with an employer. The colleges were, in turn, funded through a government scheme overseen by the Skills Funding Agency.”
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