'The Sopranos have nothing on QPR', court told

May 4, 2006

LONDON, May 4 (Reuters) - Queens Park Rangers chairman Gianni Paladini was threatened with a gun in a boardroom battle that resembled a scene out of gangster movie, a court heard on Thursday.

Paladini, 58, was forced to write out a letter of resignation and to sign two documents surrendering his shares after being confronted by "hired muscle" during a match against Sheffield United, London's Blackfriars Crown Court was told.

David Williams QC, prosecuting, told the court: "He was shouted at, slapped and punched by the group until he complied. He had no means of escape and terrified for his safety did as he was told."

Seven men deny blackmail, false imprisonment and possession of a firearm or imitation firearm on August 13 last year at QPR's home ground, Loftus Road. They include 50-year-old club director David Morris and Andrew Baker, 39, from Somerset.

Opening the case Williams told the jury: "I don't know if you watch the Sopranos - it was like something out of gangster movie.

"The case involves an attempt to coerce a majority shareholder of the famous West London football club Queens Park Rangers into resigning his position on the Board of Directors and to surrender his shares.

"However, this was no boardroom battle at a football club of the type which you might be familiar from the business or sports pages of the newspapers.

"Quite literally, a gun was produced and possibly held to the head of Gianni Paladini, who then owned a 14.7 per cent stake in the club.

"At the dictation of David Morris, a co-director of the club, he was forced to write out a letter of resignation and to sign two documents. To ensure that he did so he was intimidated by the presence of `hired muscle' provided by Baker.

"This all took place on Saturday August 13 last year - QPR were playing at home against Sheffield United.

"Shortly before kick off Morris and Mr Paladini were both in the Chairman's suite on the second floor in the South Africa Road stand.

"Officials from both QPR and Sheffield United were enjoying the pre-match hospitality. Mr Paladini arrived at the ground with his daughter Kate, his son Stephen and grandson Gianluca.

"David Morris asked if he could have a word with Paladini and the two men went up another flight of stairs to the Chief Executive's Office to speak privately.

"Within minutes a group of around six men burst into the room including Baker.

"One of the group - Baker - sat next to Paladini, another stood immediately behind him. Others filled the room and took up positions which would have left Mr Paladini in no doubt of their intentions.

"A gun was produced - real or imitation - and was pointed at Mr Paladini before being placed on the table in front of him.

"From the rear he could feel something being pushed to the back of his head. He was never in a position to see if that was a gun or not but understandably feared that it was.

"It was against this scenario that Gianni Paladini was forced to write his own letter of resignation. He was shouted at, slapped and punched by the group until he complied.

"He had no means of escape and, terrified for his safety, did as he was told."

Officials were barred entry, including the then QPR Chairman Bill Power. Having signed, Paladini was told to leave with his family and never return, being paid for his shares later directly into his bank account.

The hearing continues.