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Thursday, November 28, 2013

Gambling Addict selling drugs to pay off loansharks


Michael Chopra's gambling debts at centre of drugs cash trial

A stash of alleged drugs money was in fact footballer Michael Chopra’s gambling debts, a court was told

Michael Chopra in action for Sunderland in 2007
Michael Chopra in action for Sunderland in 2007

A stash of alleged drugs money was in fact footballer Michael Chopra’s gambling debts, a court was told.

The former Newcastle United and Sunderland striker’s debts are at the centre of a trial of four men accused of running a cocaine cartel.

Prosecutors claim £50,000 found in a car was drugs cash but jurors at Newcastle Crown Court were today told it was money Chopra owed to underworld loan sharks.

And one of the accused's barristers claimed Chopra had only joined arch rivals Sunderland so he could put the signing-on fee towards his debts after spending millions on his addiction.

Richard Bloomfield told the court: “Michael Chopra had a gambling addiction and spent or wasted, you may think, an awful lot of money gambling.

“He would bet on anything and reached a stage where he was owing increasing amounts of money.

The amount he spent runs not into the thousands or hundreds of thousands but into the millions and he even owed money to team mates.”

Mr Bloomfield said there came a time when Chopra was unable to get credit from legal bookmakers and was offered money by loan sharks in Liverpool.

The barrister said: “Eventually they started putting the squeeze on to him and they contacted his football club.”

Unable to loan money from the bank, Chopra is then said to have borrowed money from shadowy figures in Glasgow.

One of the men on trial is John Somerville, who knew Chopra’s dad and agreed to help the footballer get the money to the men in Glasgow, Mr Bloomfield said.

When police stopped a car leaving Somerville’s Newcastle home, they found £50,000, which prosecutors say is linked to the alleged drugs gang.

But Mr Bloomfield said: “That money was nothing to do with drugs, it was Chopra’s from the loan sharks to pay off his illegal gambling debts.

“That’s what John Somerville was doing, not buying drugs, he was paying Michael Chopra’s gambling debts off.”

The barrister said Chopra then got himself in trouble with the Scottish money lenders, who contacted his then club, Ipswich.

They were put on to chairman Simon Clegg OBE, who helped organise the London Olympics and had a personal audience with the Pope.

He arranged for the club to loan Chopra £250,000 to pay off his debts, the court heard.

Mr Bloomfield said: “When loan sharks start turning up at the training ground it’s a big story.

“Michael Chopra would prefer to keep it under wraps but John Somerville is on trial for a serious offence and he has no alternative but to deal with it, so he will call Michael Chopra to give evidence.

“He will expose himself to the inevitable storm by coming to give evidence.”

He added: “For those of you who are Newcastle fans, when he moved from Cardiff to Sunderland he did so to pay off his creditors with the signing on fee.”

Somerville is alleged to have thrown £12,500 of cocaine out of his car window in Gateshead with police on his tail.

Months later police allegedly found a flat in Washington turned into a drugs factory.

Somerville, 53, of Sherringham Avenue, Kenton, Newcastle, Daniel Chisholm, 51, of Franklin Street, Sunderland, Joseph Lewins, 55, of Malvern Road, Lambton, Washington and Christopher Bacon, 33, of Ashwood Terrace, Sunderland, all deny conspiracy to supply cocaine.
The trial continues.


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