SFO opens criminal probe into collapse of Arena Television
The Serious Fraud Office has opened a criminal investigation into Arena Television, a collapsed broadcaster that worked on the Euro 2020 football tournament and Glastonbury.
The white collar crime agency said it searched three sites on Wednesday morning in the south of England with support from the National Crime Agency and arrested two individuals.
The SFO did not name the suspects who are now being questioned. It is understood they are not Arena’s bosses, Richard Yeowart and Robert Hopkinson, who disappeared soon after the company collapsed in November and are thought to have left the UK.
Arena provided outside broadcast trucks to clients including the BBC, ITV and Sky. It folded in November after a serial number the company provided for a piece of equipment was queried and found to be fake.
It previously worked on high-profile sporting events such as rugby’s Six Nations championship and the FA Cup.
The scale of the suspected fraud was only revealed earlier this year in a report by administrators at Kroll, who have taken control of Arena and are seeking to recover funds for creditors.
They said Arena duped banks into lending it more than £280m for assets that did not exist.
A review of the equipment held by the company found it “does not hold the vast majority of assets purportedly acquired”.
The administrators said the only funds they had located was £2,761 in petty cash at Arena’s offices and no “significant” sums were expected to be recovered from its bank accounts.
The SFO said: “These searches and arrests form part of wider investigative activity being undertaken by the SFO in relation to this matter.
“As this is an ongoing investigation, no further comment or information can be provided at this time.”
Fifty-five lenders were owed money by Arena when it went under, including NatWest, Virgin Money UK, Close Brothers and Shawbrook.
Administrators at Kroll previously said they were investigating why the business was closed so abruptly, the disappearance of its directors, the discovery of vast debts that were not disclosed in accounts and alleged “misinformation” provided to lenders and other parties.
Arena was founded in 1988 by Mr Yeowart to provide outside broadcasting trucks and helicopters to cover sporting events.
However, on November 10 the company's employees, some of whom were on their way to broadcasting jobs, were abruptly told it had ceased trading and that they should return equipment to the head office in Redhill, Surrey.
Kroll declined to comment on the SFO’s investigation.