Features 11th February 2021

Boxing, criminal allegations, and threats against journalists

BBC Panorama confirmed that journalists have been threatened following an exposé of Daniel Kinahan’s involvement in securing a two fight deal between Tyson Fury and Anthony Joshua, set to become one of the the most lucrative contests in British boxing history. Kinahan’s alleged involvement in the criminal underworld, outlined in detail in the ‘Boxing and the Mob’ documentary, is understood to have caused panic amongst broadcasters negotiating to cover the fights, due to concern that fees could be channeled to a criminal organisation. 

MTK Global attempted to distance itself from Kinahan last May. However in so doing, the boxing agency confirmed that Kinahan had founded the agency and recommended it to Tyson Fury, whom it represents. 

“The reason we got Tyson Fury was because he was recommended to us through Daniel, which I’m totally grateful for”, said former MTK Global CEO Sandra Vaughan in a statement. “It happens all the time and I hope it continues to happen. As long as we fulfil what Daniel says about us being a great management company and keep doing the best for the fighters as much as we can, hopefully we’ll continue to get recommendations from Daniel.

“Daniel is an advisor for Bob Arum [Founder and CEO of Top Rank]. “That’s in an official capacity, and the reason we managed to get dates for ESPN [Fury signed an £80 million five fight deal in 2019] was because Daniel gave us the introduction to Top Rank. He wants MTK to do well, he was the founder of MTK Global.” Despite MTK’s statement emphasising that its founder Kinahan had ‘stepped away’ from boxing, Fury confirmed his involvement in securing the Joshua fights last June (see below).

The Panorama documentary details how Kinahan co-founded Macklin’s Gym Marbella with former European boxing champion Matthew Macklin in 2013. The gym became popular with British and Irish boxers keen to train in the sun, and developed into the MGM agency. 

In 2015, MGM was involved in controversy when gunmen burst into a weigh-in at the Regency Hotel in Dublin. It was reported that the intended target was Daniel Kinahan. David Byrne, understood to be an associate of the Kinahans, was shot dead. A film later appeared on YouTube claiming that Kinahan was the innocent victim of a plot designed to affect the Irish elections. It can still be viewed via Facebook.

In 2017, Kinahan announced that he was stepping back from MGM, which later changed its name to MTK Global. Panorama alleges that Vaughan, who issued the above statement, has been a friend of Kinahan’s for over 20 years. She told Panorama that anyone who is involved in boxing has to speak to Kinahan, and disputed claims that people don’t know about his involvement in the sport.

Daniel Kinahan continues to advise boxers

Following Panorama’s documentary, Kinahan denied any connection to criminality, pointing out that he has never been convicted of a criminal offence. However in a statement issued to TalkSport, he admits that he is still advising boxers, in contrast to MTK’s statement asserting that he had ‘stepped away’ from the sport.

“I have tried my best to ignore the allegations that are constantly made about me”, said Kinahan in the statement. “I continue to be involved in planning multiple record-breaking and exciting world title fights: I’m doing all I can to give fight fans around the world the fights they want.”

Kinahan dismissed Panorama’s assertions that an Irish court had accepted that he and his brother were responsible for running a drug and gun trafficking operation by taking aim at the Special Criminal Court (SCC), which he points out has been criticised by the United Nations and Amnesty International. However, he and his brother were identified as running such operations by the Criminal Assets Bureau of Ireland in the Dublin High Court, not by the SCC.

The family

In the statement issued to TalkSport, Kinahan emphasises his closeness to his family. “I’m blessed with an amazing family”, it states. “I’m blessed to work in boxing at the highest level having organised some of the biggest fights in boxing previously and in the future. I will continue working every day to bring out the best in, and look after, the boxers I am lucky enough to work with.

“I have chosen to dedicate my life to my family and my work. I do so every day in good and honest faith. I will continue to always choose love and choose God in my future as I do in my present.”

Europol’s details on ‘Operation Shovel’…

Kinahan’s father is Christy (Christopher) Kinahan, who also gives his name to Christopher, Daniel’s brother. Christy was convicted of heroin trafficking in the 1980s and served a six year prison sentence. The Panorama documentary details how he was arrested as part of ‘Operation Shovel’ in Spain during 2010, an operation Europol described as focusing on the activities of ‘the extremely violent Irish-based Kinahan organised crime group involved in drugs and weapons trafficking across Europe’. 

Operation Shovel is also detailed by the UN Office on Drugs & Crime (UNODC). Although 32 people were detained, charges against Christopher and Daniel Kinahan were dropped in September last year.

Kinahan & Fury

As confirmed by MTK Global’s May 2018 statement, Kinahan was behind MTK’s representation of the ‘Gypsy King’, and was also involved in securing major TV deals involving Fury. Panorama alleges that he also played a part in Fury’s return to form following mental health issues.

Part of Fury’s comeback involved training at Macklin’s Gym Marbella, which by May 2017 had been renamed MTK Gym. Panorama alleges that Kinahan acted as Fury’s personal advisor during this period.

This was shortly after Kinahan had stepped back from MGM, control of the agency had been passed to Vaughan and it had been renamed as MTK Global (apparently due to a dispute with casino group MGM). It is understood that the Marbella gym closed its doors for good in June last year, due to the impact of Covid-19.

MTK Global

MTK Global describes itself as representing over 300 fighters. Panorama alleged that it has been so successful because it takes a lower cut of a fighter’s purse rather than the usual 25%. 

MTK Global is based in Dubai, and Daniel Kinahan and his father are understood to reside close by. In June last year, Vaughan stepped down as CEO and allowed MTK President Bob Yalen to assume her duties, shortly after Fury thanked Kinahan for arranging his fights with Joshua. 

There is no evidence that Yalen knows anything about Kinahan’s alleged criminal background. However, Yalen is also MTK Global’s President and he announced a major deal alongside Kinahan in May 2020, shortly before taking over as CEO.

In a statement announcing a deal with KHK Sports, Kinahan is named as a ‘special advisor’ to KHK. The mixed martial arts (MMA) company was founded by Shaikh Khalid bin Hamad Al Khalifa, a member of the Bahrain Royal Family. There is no suggestion that Shaikh Khalid knew anything about Kinahan’s alleged involvement in the criminal underworld, and the company is understood to have cut ties with Kinahan shortly after the deal was agreed.

Yalen told Panorama that MTK Global had developed a “big pot” of money over the years, which is how it has been able to sign so many fighters. Yalen claimed to be unaware of Kinahan’s alleged involvement in criminal activities, and confirmed that Kinahan was still advising MTK boxers. He told Panorama that he didn’t know if Kinahan is advising Fury, and Fury failed to respond to Panorama’s questions on this.

MTK Global moved to Dubai in 2018, and it does not publish company accounts. In December last year, boxing promoter Moses Heredia filed a lawsuit1 against MTK Global alleging that it improperly entered into a ‘marketing advisory’ agreement with boxer Joseph Diaz, alleging that he was provided with a US$100,000 advance using money derived from drug trafficking and money laundering.

In the Panorama documentary, former European champion Barry McGuigan, who is now runs boxing agency Cyclone Promotions, alleged that ATK had poached boxers he represented. McGuigan contested a similar case involving former World Champion Carl Frampton, which was settled in November last year. “There is an element of terror around that name”, said McGuigan in response to questions about why nobody in boxing was prepared to speak about Kinahan.

Silence

The international boxing association (AIBA) has not commented on the allegations around Kinahan’s involvement with the sport. Neither has the British Boxing Board of Control (BBBoC). Bob Arum of Top Rank told the Irish Sun that Kinahan does occasionally speak to him about MTK fighters competing in the US, but that most of his business with MTK is conducted with MTK’s President and CEO, Yalen. 

Anyone can advise a boxer. You don’t need a licence, and Kinahan has never been convicted of a criminal offence, as he forcefully points out in his statement. Yes, it does appear that the Gardaí and other Irish law enforcement authorities are keen to charge Kinahan, his brother, and his father. But that doesn’t prevent Kinahan from advising boxers.

Kinahan was also advising an MMA company owned by the Bahrain royal family for a short period of time. Again, there is no law preventing KHK Sports from appointing Kinahan as an advisor, but it does appear astounding that no background checks were performed. A Google search for ‘Daniel Kinahan’  during the period in which the KHK deal was announced reveals news articles alleging his links to criminal activity (see right). 

MTK Global’s initial attempts to distance itself from Kinahan suggest it was initially keen to keep his involvement out of the limelight. Tyson Fury’s tweet thanking Kinahan for arranging his fights with Joshua, even if it was tongue in cheek, blew any such strategy out of the water.

In representing over 300 fighters, MTK Global appears to have become one of the largest agencies in boxing in a very short space of time. The cases involving Frampton and Diaz suggest that big money inducements are being offered to fighters to join MTK Global. The company doesn’t appear to publish accounts and the Panorama documentary raises legitimate questions about how it is financed. 

Young people’s careers are also at stake. MTK Global has recently partnered with the UK’s Academy of Sports Education to launch six academies around the UK designed to educate young people towards a career in boxing.

Until MTK Global answers questions about how it conducts its business, suspicions – however misplaced – are likely to persist. If the US criminal case does expose any link between MTK Global and criminal activity, it could jeopardise the Fury vs. Joshua fights. It would also be a major headache for everybody involved in boxing.

1. Heredia Boxing Management Inc et al. v. MTK Global Sports Management LLC et al., case number 20-cv-2618.

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