LONDON – Saracens owner Nigel Wray has gone into business with England captain Owen Farrell and three other senior members of the squad, raising questions over whether they have broken salary cap regulations.
Premiership Rugby has said it will “look closely” at material provided by Sportsmail to determine whether the all-conquering club are operating within the rules of its £7million salary cap.
A four-month investigation by Sportsmail has revealed that multi-millionaire property entrepreneur Wray owns businesses with England stars Farrell, Billy and Mako Vunipola and Richard Wigglesworth, and has also co-owned houses with former Saracens players.
Our investigation prompts questions about how benefits that players receive from these arrangements are accounted for in rules which regulate their salaries, which are set by Premiership Rugby Ltd (PRL). Sportsmail understands that rival club owners are ready to call for a full investigation into Saracens by PRL.
Under the ownership of Wray – who is worth £315m – Saracens have become one of the dominant forces in European rugby, winning the Premiership three times in the last four seasons and being crowned double European champions.
The club, who have previously been investigated in relation to the salary cap, already boast eight members of England’s Six Nations squad and are about to acquire a ninth when Elliot Daly joins from Wasps.
Like all the clubs in the Premiership, they have to operate within strict salary cap regulations that limit the money they can spend on all their players to £7m per season – plus two ‘marquee players’ whose salaries are not included.
Sportsmail has found that Wray, who has been involved at Saracens since 1995 and reclaimed full control of the club last year, has struck up business arrangements with four of his top players. Documents at Companies House reveal that on the same day in early 2017, two separate investment property companies were set up by a business associate of Wray’s and given the names ShahDan Limited and DanCallie Ltd.
In both cases, this associate, Daniel van den Heever, was sole director and Wray sole shareholder at the point of incorporation.
Within three months, the names, directors and shareholders of the companies had changed.
ShahDan Limited became VunProp Ltd on March 31, 2017, with the two Vunipola brothers becoming joint directors and 33.3 per cent shareholders by the end of April. Accounts filed with Companies House show the company owns £1.5million worth of property, including a £592,500 property near Bermondsey, South London, bought in March 2017.
There is a £1m bank loan and another loan of £522,560 listed.
Meanwhile, DanCallie Ltd became Wiggy9 Investments, with Wigglesworth – who has 33 England caps – owning 65 per cent of the shares and Wray 35 per cent.
Accounts show the company has £875,000 of investment property and at the end of the year £189,397 was available to shareholders.
England captain Farrell is the most recent player known to have gone into business with Wray.
Less than a month after Farrell signed a contract extension with Saracens in 2017, the financial management firm Faz Investments Ltd was set up by former Saracens director Kamal Shah, with Farrell and Wray as the only shareholders. No accounts have yet been filed.
Premiership Rugby declined to comment when asked to confirm whether they were notified of these arrangements by Saracens, saying that declarations by each club are confidential.
An investigation of Saracens players’ living arrangements found more links between Wray and his players. Documents show that he still co-owns the £690,000 property in Harpenden where Schalk Brits is registered as having lived since 2011. Brits, 37, retired from rugby last year but now plays for South African side Bulls.
Wray bought the house in July 2011 with Brits, Brits’s wife Colinda and Bermuda-based multi-millionaire insurer Dominic Silvester, who is a director of Saracens.
Wray also owned the £587,500 house in St Albans in which former Scotland lock Jim Hamilton lived until the end of 2017, despite retiring in May 2017. The property was sold in February 2018.
Property-sharing between Wray and players was first provided at Saracens, Sportsmail understands, 15 years ago to help players cope with rising property prices in southern England. Saracens declined to comment on whether these arrangements had been in operation since 2004.
Asked if Wray charges rent to the players while they live in the property, Saracens again declined to comment.
They also would not confirm on the record if all the arrangements uncovered by Sportsmail had been declared to PRL salary cap manager Andrew Rogers.
Under the salary cap regulations, all “contracts” or “arrangements” between a club (or any connected party) and a player must be declared to the salary cap manager. The regulations also state that ‘any accommodation or holiday cost’ is included in the salary of a player.
When contacted by Sportsmail, Saracens said they have declared “all remuneration” as part of their salary cap obligations.
In 2014, Sportsmail revealed that PRL had launched an inquiry into Saracens and Bath following allegations raised by a whistleblower.
PRL never confirmed the names of the clubs involved, but every side except Saracens, Bath and Leicester publicly denied their set-up was being investigated.
Later, it appeared as though only Saracens had been in the spotlight.The probe lasted nearly a year and came to an end when an out-of-court settlement was reached.
Many fans reacted badly to the decision, labelling it “a cop-out”.
A spokesperson for Saracens said: “It is not policy to supply specific details on publicly available information. The club readily complies with Premiership Rugby salary regulations and information relating to remuneration is declared to the salary cap manager.”
A spokesperson for PRL said: “We take all information relating to the salary cap framework very seriously. We have received all the relevant information from Sportsmail and will consider it in detail to determine if any action needs to be taken. Premiership Rugby has a duty to all clubs to deliver the system in a transparent, objective and non- discriminatory manner.
“Each season, all our clubs are subject to a detailed independent audit of all player salaries and benefits to ensure they are fully declared and comply with the salary cap framework set by our board. We can’t comment on the specifics of the Sportsmail story but will look closely at any information provided.
“Any decision on follow-up action would be taken with the assistance of independent bodies in accordance with the regulations.
“There can be several elements comprising salary and a full description of this – as well as a connected party – is included in the regulations which can be found at premiershiprugby.com.”