Police have today arrested two men on suspicion of fraud and executed a warrant at a premises in Shropshire as part of an investigation into alleged corruption in sport.
It comes after The Times revealed the boss of an exclusive mobile phone company claimed a secret payment of £20,000 was made to a Vodafone employee for the phone records of Rio Ferdinand during an investigation into his missed drugs test back in 2003.
A statement issued by the North West Regional Organised Crime Unit on Friday said: ‘Detectives from the [unit] and the National Crime Agency are carrying out an investigation into corruption, which involves perverting the course of the justice and conspiracy and false accounting.
Police have arrested two people and launched an investigation into corruption in sport after Sport Mobile boss was recorded claiming a secret payment was made to a Vodafone employee for the phone records of Rio Ferdinand during an investigation into his missed drugs test back in 2003
The then Manchester United and England defender Ferdinand pictured arriving at the Reebok Stadium with his lawyer back in 2003 to answer an FA misconduct charge into his failure to take a drugs test
‘The investigation commenced after allegations were raised of perverting the course of justice in football arbitration proceedings, and in the High Court, and sport integrity testing (both historic and current).
‘As a result a warrant has been executed at a premises in Shropshire today (Friday 17th July) and two men aged 62 years, and 37 years both from the Telford area have been arrested on suspicion of fraud.
‘Investigators are following a number of positive lines of inquiry and the two men arrested today have been taken to police stations where they will be interviewed by detectives.’
John Shepherd (pictured) reportedly claimed to clients that a Vodafone employee was paid £20,000 for phone records used as key evidence in Mr Ferdinand’s case
In an undercover recording obtained by The Times, John Shepherd, who runs mobile phone service Sport Mobile, reportedly boasted about how his firm could alter phone records for wealthy clients and that money was offered to a Vodafone employee for evidence key to an FA probe into the former Manchester United and England defender.
Ferdinand – an England international and the Premier League’s most expensive defender at the time – claimed he had forgotten about the drugs test as he was moving house, and had gone shopping, but later contacted the club to offer to take the test.
He provided a sample two days later – which turned out to be negative.
In December 2003, he was banned for eight months, fined £50,000 and ordered to pay costs estimated at about £250,000 following a two-day Football Association disciplinary hearing into the charge of missing the drugs test.
The independent tribunal found Mr Ferdinand guilty of misconduct after he failed to take the test at United’s Carrington training ground, despite being selected to give a sample to UK Sport doping officials.
However a key issue in the hearing, and after, was the defender’s use of a mobile phone, which he claimed he had used to call Manchester United’s team doctor.
Ferdinand is said to categorically deny the claims by Mr Shepherd while his former agent has dismissed them as ‘bravado’
As part of an undercover investigation, the paper also reports that Shepherd claimed that he helped billionaire Newcastle owner Mike Ashley during his civil court battle with a former business associate three years ago.
The Times claim Ferdinand’s former agent has dismissed the claims by Mr Shepherd as ‘bravado’.
MailOnline contacted representatives for all three men for comment, but as of this morning had not received a response.
Mr Ashley and Mr Ferdinand are said to categorically deny the boasts by Mr Shepherd, who denies any wrongdoing and making the claims.
Sport Mobile has a long list of clients containing some of the biggest names in British sport, including players and managers from 16 Premier League clubs as well as senior members of England’s cricket team.