'Super-agent' Zahavi in spotlight as police raid Mouscron

Three people were arrested following a series of raids in Belgium that have intensified the spotlight on Israeli 'super-agent' Pini Zahavi amid reports of an illegally-held role at the Mouscron club.

Zahavi, who played a key role in Neymar's record 222-million-euro move from Barcelona to Paris Saint-Germain in 2017, was not among those questioned by police on Wednesday.

But the 75-year-old Israeli is suspected of using "fraud, forgery" and "foreign companies" to obscure the extent of his role with Mouscron, who in turn are suspected of filing "false documents" via offshore companies in a bid to maintain their status in Belgium's top flight.

"Searches were carried out at the offices of Mouscron football club, at the homes of the club's management and at the headquarters of two sports associations," a statement by federal prosecutors said Wednesday.

A source close to the case said Zahavi was not questioned.

But following a first investigation in April into suspicions of "fraud and forgery" at the club, federal prosecutors claimed "foreign companies helped a player's agent, P.Z., to mask his control of" Mouscron. The initials PZ refer to Pini Zahavi.

It is illegal for players' agents to own football clubs in Belgium and police suspect Mouscron of filing false documents with sporting authorities to obtain the licence required to compete in the top flight.

Prosecutors confirmed the investigation aims to "check if these alleged dealings allowed Mouscron to remain illegally in the first division thanks to a management structure created through offshore companies".

A second part of the investigation is focusing on "suspected money laundering". Prosecutors suspect Mouscron of "being maintained through a multi-million euro financial deal through offshore companies".

Belgian media reports claim Zahavi took over Mouscron in 2015 thanks to a Malta-based financial fund, before selling the club a year later to a company run by his nephew.

Mouscron have been owned since early 2018 by Thai businessman Pairoj Piempongsant, although a recent report cited the Football Leaks website when it claimed Zahavi was still "a presence" at the club.

The current investigations are separate to other probes in Belgium centring on match-fixing and transfer market corruption.

Zahavi made his name as an agent when he orchestrated Rio Ferdinand's then-record £18m move from West Ham to Leeds United in 2000 and then his £30m transfer from Leeds to Manchester United.

The agent also played a role in Roman Abramovich's purchase of Chelsea in 2003 and was involved in many of the transfer deals that soon followed.