In my last piece on here, I talked about the methodology I was using to try and find answers to what has gone wrong with the repairs to St Andrew’s stadium, and why Birmingham City fans can’t sit in the seats they have paid for for the foreseeable future.
In the time since that news story broke there’s been a lot of discussion about what can be done by members of the press to find answers not only about these short term problems but the longer term plans that the owners of the stadium might have.
There’s been criticism of the press for not doing enough; a small part because people look at the work I have produced on almajir.net about the club and wondered why the work of a part-time amateur can’t be replicated and improved upon by trained journalists.
In this piece I wanted to talk about how I’m approaching finding answers about the long term future of St Andew’s Stadium.
It’s probably best to start with some background information, so that everyone who is reading this understands the basics behind the story.
Birmingham City FC play at St Andrew’s Stadium in Birmingham. It’s been their home stadium since 1906, and up until very recently the stadium was owned by the club.
While the stadium is listed as an asset of community value under the Localism Act 2011, it was sold by Birmingham City plc (which runs the club) to another subsidiary of Birmingham Sports Holdings (BSH; the holding company which owns the club) called Birmingham City Stadium Ltd (BCSL) in June 2018. This was seemingly done to help the club game the “Profit and Sustainability” rules imposed by the EFL.
Although the change in ownership is yet to be filed with Companies House, filings to the Hong Kong Stock Exchange confirm that 25% of BCSL was sold to Oriental Rainbows Investment (Oriental Rainbows) in December 2020 while the remaining 75% was sold in June 2021 to Achiever Global Group Ltd (Achiever Global), meaning that neither the club nor the holding company now own St Andrew’s.
Oriental Rainbows is a British Virgin Islands company wholly owned by Cambodian businessman Vong Pech, while Achiever Global is a British Virgin Islands company wholly owned by Taiwanese businesswoman Kang Ming-Ming.
Both Vong Pech and Kang Ming-Ming were named directors of BCSL in May 2021.
The obvious place to look to contact the owners of the stadium would be Birmingham City Stadium Ltd, the entity which owns the stadium.
As a company founded in England and Wales, there is documentation online listing not only the registered address of the company, but addresses for directors and for persons with significant control.
The logical first choice would be to write to the registered address of the company, but as neither Vong Pech nor Kang Ming-Ming have been near St Andrew’s since the purchase it’s unlikely that any letters sent there will receive a response.
Then there are the service addresses given for the directors of the company.
Both directors have used the registered address for their British Virgin Islands companies. What this means is that their given addresses are literally a name plate on a wall in an office in the Caribbean. It’s extremely unlikely that we will receive a response to correspondence sent to either of these addresses.
This means that if we are going to contact either of the people who are listed as being owners of the stadium, we are going to be have to be creative.
The easier of the two to find online is Vong Pech.
I use a website called OpenCorporates to help me find data on directors and companies. OpenCorporates uses scraped data from publicly searchable online company registries which can be used to find links between companies and people.
A search of Vong Pech shows 67 directorships in that name with 66 entries coming from Cambodia, as well as Birmingham City Stadium Ltd. The easy thing to do would be to assume all connections are the same guy, but this is dangerous as it’s easily possible for more than one person to have the same name. With this in mind we need to establish some context to ensure we get likely matches.
One of the matches for Vong Pech is a company called Asia-Pacific Development Bank Ltd (APD Bank).
A check through the other directors shows that another director has the name Zhao Wenqing; which is the same name as the Chairman of BSH who is also a director of the club. When looking at the 2019 annual report for the company, the CEO then was Hsiao Charng Geng — which is also the same name as an executive director of BSH.
Three names is entirely too much to be a coincidence for me and I am happy to assume the Vong Pech that is chairman (and major shareholder) of this bank is the Vong Pech I am looking for.
A look at Google maps for APD Bank in Phnom Penh is interesting, as judging by the picture on street view the Bank has moved into a newly built office. It shares that office with another company called Cambodian Natural Gas Corp Ltd (CNGC), which according to OpenCorporates also lists Vong Pech as a director.
A check of the CNGC website gives us the same postal address as above — which means we have one avenue to send a letter. There are also generic company email addresses.
Defined email addresses are a bit harder — although not impossible.
Trawling through past BSH announcements connected to Cambodia, one name came up was “Celestial Fame”, which has the full name Celestial Fame Investments Ltd and is based in the British Virgin Islands.
Interestingly, a search of OpenCorporates shows that there is also a company called “Celestial Fame Investment (Cambodia) Co Ltd”, which lists Vong Pech as director and a company called Celestial Fame Investments Ltd as its owner.
A search of the Cambodian Company Registry gives very limited info, but one thing it does give us is an email address.
A check with an email validation service shows that this address is valid; however it cannot show if it’s in use by the person we want, and it definitely can’t tell us if we’ll get a reply or not — but until travel restrictions are over and someone can go over there and knock some doors, it might be the best opportunity we have.
Taiwanese director Kang Ming-Ming is much harder to find; there is almost no mention of her online away from the announcement about St Andrew’s.
Although a search of OpenCorporates drew a blank, the important thing to remember about that website is that it only scrapes free company registries. It cannot scrape data from registries such as Hong Kong where information has to be paid for.
A directors search for Kang Ming-Ming has one hit; a company called Joy Rich Technology Ltd (Joy Rich).
Obviously, we need to sense check this to make sure this is the right person. Two pieces of information on the paperwork lead me to conclude this is the lady we want.
Firstly, the owner of the company sounds remarkably familiar. Achiever Global Group Limted is the name of the company which has bought out 75% of Birmingham City Stadium Ltd.
As a sheer coincidence, the one piece of paperwork that Oriental Rainbows filed in Hong Kong when it was briefly registered there named a director’s service address as the same office in the same building.
The paperwork for Joy Rich gives a service address for Kang Ming-Ming in Taipei. I’ve decided not to share that address in this piece as when I looked it up on Google Maps it clearly was what we’d call in English terms a “council house” and I’m not 100% comfortable that its Kang Ming-Ming’s real address.
Unfortunately, a search of the Taiwanese company registry has drawn a blank; a search for “康茗茗” returns no results while a search for “康茗” brings back only two names, neither of which match the full name of the person that we are looking for.
Another avenue that requires a search is the PR China.
A search of qcc.com has brought about one potential match; a Beijing company whose legal representative and shareholder is called Kang Ming-Ming; interestingly who is listed as being Taiwanese.
There are two email addresses found linked with this company, which I have tried to make contact with, without success. As I am not 100% convinced that this is the right person, I’ve decided I am not going to share these yet.
The above represents a few hours work spaced out over a period of weeks, and has yet to produce any real results.
Furthermore, without being able to knock some doors in Phnom Penh, Taipei or Beijing it is unlikely it will be possible to push these much harder. OSINT is good for building a background but there are limits to what can be found online and actual human interaction is needed.
It’s all well and good criticising journalists for not being able to get answers — but when even finding out who to question represents an extremely difficult task, I think it’s important to recognise just what a difficult job this is for anyone.