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  Wednesday, 14 August, 2002, 15:50 GMT 16:50 UK
Above the law?
The Amsterdam Arena, home of Ajax
Under investigation - the Ajax Amsterdam Arena
World Football's Ranjen Pathmamanoharan investigates the latest employment scandal rocking Dutch football...

Nando Rafael is an exciting young talent from Angola.

The football experts say he's the new Patrick Kluivert, and after scoring 20 goals in 23 games last season for Ajax Amsterdam, he's the hottest property in Dutch football.

But Rafael's future is in doubt after claims that Ajax signed him illegally, and it's not the first case of its kind in the Netherlands.
The badge of Ajax Amsterdam
"Ajax believe they are above the law" - Anton van Kalmthout

Nando Rafael's parents both died in the civil war in Angola. In 1995 at the age of 11, he moved to the Netherlands with his uncle. Soon after he arrived, he was signed by Ajax Amsterdam.

Last season he made his debut as a professional footballer for them. But, as an asylum-seeker, Nando is not allowed to work in the Netherlands, as Richie Trilling of the Dutch Employment Service explains.

"Playing football in the Dutch professional league is seen as work according to Dutch law" he says.

"If a professional football club has employed an asylum-seeker then this is illegal".

Ajax have registered Nando Rafael with Dutch nationality. In June 2002, they awarded him a three-year contract, even though they are under investigation by the Employment Agency over Rafael's eligibility. Then Ajax requested a work permit.
Leonardo of Feyenoord
False passport - Leonardo of Feyenoord

According to professor in Criminal and Migration Law Anton van Kalmthout of the Tilburg University in the Netherlands, the rules governing employment of non-EU players are strict, but the top Dutch clubs don't care.

"The rules are indeed very strict, but until now they are not applied very strictly" he says.

"The sanctions are very mild, too mild, because they are nothing more than a small fine of 25,000 Euros, which is no deterrent at all.

"Because for the clubs the advantage of fielding a player, even if they are illegal, is much greater than the threat of a small fine".

In the last few years professional clubs in the Netherlands have been inspected more and more.

In 1999 the Dutch Labour Inspection discovered 6 different clubs with 8 senior and 18 younger players who don't have a valid work permit.

In September 2000 the Public Prosecution Department started an investigation into the Feyenoord player Leonardo's Portugese passport.
Leonardo of Feyenoord
Feyenoord employed Leonardo illegally

The Ministry of Justice urged Feyenoord not to play Leonardo, but they ignored the request, and Leonardo plays a few days later against Ajax.

It later emerged that Leonardo had a false passport. He is a Brazilian citizen, not Portugese.

Anton van Kalmthout, this is again proof that top clubs aren't taking the law seriously.

"The Feyenoord case showed that the football clubs are ignoring the rules" he says.

"These clubs act and believe that they are above the law, and that the official rules are not applicable to them.

Football is popular, and because of this popularity society seems not to care that these criminal acts are committed by football clubs".

Even on the Ajax website you can read that Nando Rafael is Angolan. But in the records of the National Football Association, Rafael is still registered as a Dutch citizen.

Rob de Leede, spokesman of the Dutch National Football Association, the KNVB says that's good enough for them.

"The Dutch Football Association isn't swayed by internet sites or TV or radio reports" he says.

"We aren't led by announcements that other people make. We have to live with the official reports from clubs, and as soon as Ajax apply for an new membership card for their player then we can start changing the nationality or any other details that might be of use.

"The Dutch Football Association does not act like a detective agency or a police office. We regulate the competitions in the Netherlands, and we try to make sure football is played in the best possible way.

"If a club or a player breaks the law then there are other institutions in the country that check that and take the necessary steps".

But Anton Van Kalmthout says they need to take responsibility.

"These arguments of the KNVB aren't very convincing" he says.

"The Football Association is responsible for a fair competition, and not without reason the official rules of the KNVB describe conditions under which football clubs and players can participate in the national league.

"These rules are senseless when the KNVB isn't controlling the registrations of the players, and is not willing to act when their rules are obviously violated by the clubs, as the case with Ajax and Nando Rafael.

"They were aware of the fact that Rafael was not allowed to play, but they did nothing to prevent it.
John O'Brien of Ajax and the USA
John O'Brien is one of many non-EU players at Ajax

"Nobody is asking the KNVB to act like Sherlock Holmes, but that doesn't mean they are not obliged to maintain their own rules, especially when there is enough evidence delivered by others that a football player has no work permit.

"And the KNVB has to take the initiative to investigate this, because it is in their interest that illegal employment is prevented.

"By not doing this the KNVB is also responsible that illegal employment in the Dutch league still exists".

The Dutch FA says it's not their problem, but the Employment Agency say they're turning a blind eye.

"There's no need for the KNVB to get involved" says Rob de Leede.

"Employers here all know they have certain legal obligations to their employees. Why should the KNVB start interfering?"

"Why should the KNVB start interfering?" argues Anton van Kalmthout, "Well, you have to interfere in cases involving their own strict rules, namely that a player from outside the EU is not allowed to play in the national football competition.
Benni McCarthy in his Ajax days
Signings like Benni McCarthy could be a thing of the past

"If it is not the job of the KNVB to do this then who else has the power to do so?

"It is amazing that after so many incidents of illegal employment in the last few years this is still the official policy of the KNVB",

The Ministry of Employment has since reported Ajax to the Public Prosecution Department, so they believe that the club has broken the law.

If the Ministry of Justice confirms that Ajax acted illegally, the Employment Service will refuse all requests for work permits, and the club will no longer be able to sign players from outside the EU.

This season, ten of the Ajax first team are from outside the EU, including Egypt's Ahmed Hassam, and John O'Brien of the USA.

So, if they are punished, they may regret asking as if they are above the law.

You can hear all of Ranjen Pathmamanoharan's report on Nando Rafael on World Football on Saturday 10 August. Use the audio link on the front page.


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