Ex-Sunderland star given £250,000 to pay off gambling debts, court told

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Ex-Black Cat Michael Chopra was also given a three-week stint in residential rehab to try to address his problems courtesy of current club, Ipswich Town.

Details of the 27-year-old’s battle to pay off his enormous debts were revealed when the chief executive of Ipswich Town was called to give evidence, via videolink, at a trial being heard at Newcastle Crown Court.

The trial involves four men accused of turning a Wearside flat into a drugs “factory” where high-grade cocaine was processed, packaged and distributed.

Prosecutors say £50,000 in cash found in the footwell of a Jaguar car by officers investigating the illegal ring was drugs money.

They claim the £50,000 was part payment for two kilogrammes of cocaine which Wearsider Daniel Chisholm is said to have taken in a taxi from co-accused John Summerville’s Newcastle home to the Washington drugs flat.

But at the start of the men’s defence case it has been suggested the cash was actually a payment made by Chopra as an instalment towards settling what he owed to creditors in the North of England.

Ipswich chief executive Simon Clegg told jurors he knew of Chopra’s plight when he signed for the club six months ago and felt he had a “duty of care” to try and help him out.

But he said he did not know his statement would lead to him giving evidence in a drugs trial when he spoke to a solicitor representing one of the men.

Mr Clegg, who was one of the key figures in securing the 2012 Olympics for London, said he negotiated with Chopra’s creditors, some of whom were individuals rather than legitimate loan firms, and transferred cash into his account in a bid to help.

The court heard loan sharks had even turned up at the club training ground to demand cash they claimed Chopra owed them.

Despite the generosity afforded to him Chopra still has further debts and it is claimed his behaviour has jeopardised his relationship with his own father.

Mr Clegg told the court: “I feel I have a duty of care for all the players who represent our football club, to try and support and assist them with any problems they may have so they can concentrate on what they are employed to do, which is play football.”

When pressed to name a figure for the total debt he understood Chopra to have run up, Mr Clegg said: “Somewhere in the region of quarter-of-a-million pounds.”

Mr Clegg said he understood a “significant percentage” of that figure was due to gambling.

The executive added: “He certainly owed money to individuals down in Wales and others in the north of the country.

They were monies owed to individuals, the best of my knowledge is they were not institutions, they were individuals, not the sort of people I would be going to if I wanted to borrow money.

“I was aware Michael was concerned about repaying the money on time. He needed to pay the money back or he would find himself in trouble.”

Mr Clegg said he helped arrange for Chopra to have a stay at a rehabilitation centre which retired footballer Tony Adams helped set up.

He added; “It was with Michael’s support we have managed for him to receive residential rehab for three weeks with a support organisation called Sporting Chance.”

Mr Clegg said both he and the club were aware of Chopra’s problems when he was signed. He added that he was aware Chopra has further debts, despite all of the help he has been given.

Prosecutors claim Joseph Lewins, 53, of Malvern Road, Washington, along with Daniel Chisholm, 49, of Franklin Street, Millfield, Sunderland, Christopher Bacon, 31, of Ashwood Terrace Sunderland, and John Somerville, 51, of Sherringham Avenue, Newcastle, conspired together to supply class A drugs between April and November last year.

All four deny the charge and the trial continues.