We were reminiscing about the old days one afternoon at HR Central, and someone was musing about Belinda’s now-defunct (and all traces erased) Knight Foundation. You remember, that was the “Foundation” which wasn’t really a charity, but which Belinda promised would “act like a charity”…and which sounded very much like a lot of real charities out there. Only it was a registered company, with all donations going…somewhere.
“And what was with that fellow she named it for, CCX Knight? He didn’t stick around long, did he?”
“Who was he, does anybody know?”
At this point the Office Tapir, whose task it is to keep track of this sort of thing, silently but efficiently (as is his wont) pushed a dossier across the desk.
So it seems that wealthy American businessman Christopher C. X. Knight’s story was that he met Belinda, as so many unfortunate and desperate parents have done, on one of her “Empowerment Monday” vigils outside the Royal Courts of Justice. While she was unable to help him keep his daughter from going to Ukraine with her mother and grandparents, C.C.X. Knight decided to stick with Belinda and start a charity, having pledged himself to a life of service to society.
Very inspiring, we’re sure you’ll agree. Again from the old Knight Foundation site, we find Christopher Charles Xavier Knight, Belinda McKenzie, and Sabine McNeill: the three founding officers of the Knight Foundation.
A man of many identities
According to Companies House, while CCX Knight was a founding officer of the Knight Foundation, he didn’t stick around long. On the company’s page, Xavier Knight was appointed as a Director on 17 March 2014 and resigned 14 May 2014; his appointment as Secretary lasted a few months longer, from 17 March to his resignation on 19 November 2014.
Oddly, though Belinda described Xavier Knight as a telecoms businessman, we were initially unable to find any information about his previous career.
However, when we looked at Companies House listings for Christopher Knight, we found that he was associated with a company called COMSOFT Ltd, a telecoms company which was removed by compulsory strike-off on 14 August 2012.
Of note on that company’s page is that it lists two Christopher Knights: the common-or-garden version, who lists his nationality as British and his date of birth as March 1978; and the upgraded version, Dr Christopher Knight, who lists his nationality as American and his date of birth as March 1973. We guess he needed the extra five years to earn that “Dr” title.
Oddly, in its last year before the company was listed for compulsory strike-off, it listed its capital as totalling £100,000. Also of note: two women with Eastern European names were appointed company secretary, one after the other: Yuliya Osudina (from October 2010 until January 2011) and Lana Petrenko (from January 2011 until the company dissolved in August 2012.
The British, born-in-1978 Christopher Knight was also a director of “Knight Communications Limited“.
Like COMSOFT, Knight Communications was dissolved by compulsory strike-off in 2014, only a year after reporting £101,000 in capital; and also like COMSOFT, Knight Communications shows Yuliya Osudina was Secretary from October 2010 until January 2011, when she resigned and her position was assumed by Lana Petrenko, who stayed until January 2012.
Time is on Your Side
The 1978 British Christopher Knight was also a director of “Time is On Your Side Ltd.“, a dormant company previously known as “Business Risk Ltd”. Would it shock you to learn that it was dissolved by compulsory strike-off in 2014?
This time round, while neither Lana nor Yuliya was involved, we were startled to note that Belinda McKenzie’s former cameraman, Igor Proskurov, was appointed Secretary to the company in February 2012, resigning in October of that year.
Perhaps even more startling was another director, John Dunn Laird, of Belfast. Yes, that John Dunn Laird. Lord Laird, formerly with the Ulster Unionist Party, now non-affiliated following a bit of a cock-up in 2013, when he allegedly offered to lobby for a firm against Parliamentary rules.
The Belfast Giants scandal
If you’ve been scrolling through all that Companies House palaver hoping to get to the juicy stuff, here’s where it begins.
In January 2013, news broke that a 70% share in the Belfast Giants hockey team had been sold to a young American businessman:
There have been no ‘under new management’ banners at the Odyssey Arena, or an official announcement from the Giants that a takeover has happened, but the Belfast Telegraph can reveal that Jim Gillespie has sold his stake in the club and that it is now owned by Chris Knight.
The 34-year-old American has made his fortune in the telecommunications industry and he is pumping a large part of the money that he has earned into the Giants with the intention of making the club the envy of their rivals.
Knight’s work with the Giants has gone on under the radar, until now. A formal announcement is expected soon though and it may come before Friday night’s clash with the Dundee Stars at the Odyssey.
What will then be fully revealed is that Knight, who is chief executive of Knight Communications, now owns 70% of the Giants. John Laird, better known in Northern Ireland as Lord Laird, is also part of the new ownership structure, with a minority shareholding. …
Although the main part of his business is based in the United States — New York to be specific — Knight himself spends most of his time in London, although of late he has been a regular visitor to Belfast.
This was big news for Belfast hockey fans. However, it wasn’t long before the bloom was off the rose: in February, the players had revolted against the buy-out:
The owner of Belfast Giants has been dramatically frozen out amid a bitter fall out with his players and staff.
Players from the Giants have signed for a new company that intends to use the same name and play at the same venue – the Odyssey Arena in the east of the city – but under a different management regime.
US investor Christopher Knight had bought the controlling shares in the Giants from long-term owner Jim Gillespie last November in a deal reputedly worth £145,000. But his reign hit the rocks after just two months when the company that operates the arena – the Odyssey Trust – moved against Mr Knight after claiming “major issues” came to its attention.
What sort of “major issues”? you ask. This sort, according to the BBC:
The Ulster Unionist peer Lord Laird was a paid advisor to a registered sex offender in Florida and hosted meetings for him at the House of Lords as part of a takeover of the Belfast Giants ice hockey team.
Lord Laird has defended his dealings with Christopher Knight.
He said he first learned about his past about 18 months ago.
When the Belfast Giants and the company that runs the Odyssey Arena found out, they scuppered the deal.
Lord Laird said he cannot understand what the problem is.
American Christopher Knight first met the Belfast Giants in autumn 2012.
Initially, Mr Knight, who has a background in the telecommunications industry, had sought to sponsor the team before then offering to buy owner Jim Gillespie’s 90% shareholding.
Within less than four weeks of negotiations, Mr Gillespie had sold.
But some at the Giants were curious about Mr Knight’s financial background and that led to the team’s general manager, Todd Kelman, making a discovery based on Mr Knight having different dates of birth on company documents.
“He was using the same name with different birth dates,” said Mr Kelman.
Gosh, the same name with different birth dates? Where have we heard this before?
As to how they worked out that Christopher Knight was a registered sex offender, it turns out that wasn’t terribly difficult: it’s all right here, on this link from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
According to the Sex Offenders’ Register, Christopher Charles Knight, now living in the UK, was charged in 2003 with “lewd/lascivious battery, sex with victim 12-15 years old”.
He pleaded “no contest” and was given five years’ sex offenders probation, with his name placed on the sex offenders’ registry for 20 years.
The BBC also reported,
Mr Knight’s response to subsequent inquiries has been to insist he was put on the list inappropriately.
However, the BBC has spoken to James Weick Jr, the attorney who prosecuted for the State of Florida in the case against Knight and who confirmed no error.
“The only way you are put on the Sex Offender Registry is if you have pleaded to a crime. In Mr Knight’s situation, since he received five year’s sex offender probation, he is automatically put on the registry, whether he was convicted of the crime by getting an adjudication of guilt or after a withhold of adjudication.
“He is on that sex offender register ‘correctly’, for want of a better word. There is no mistake about that.”
Mr Weick added that the only way to have one’s name removed from the registry is to complete 20 years from the time of conviction, or to go through the Court of Appeals to have the plea vacated and start the court process over.
While no one involved in the hockey team buy-out knew of Christopher Knight’s record before this time, it seems that his business colleague Lord Laird had known all about it from the outset. At first he claimed that it really wasn’t that big a deal:
“That’s not my issue – ok? He is very upfront into what happened to him in Florida and that seemed perfectly reasonable to me that he should go around telling people about it.
“In Northern Ireland, society requires me to work with people who have terrorist convictions and who are now in government. So we’re worried about some minor misdemeanour in Florida? I just can’t get around in my mind what the problem is.”
Lord Laird also believed his association with Mr Knight could have benefited Northern Ireland because Mr Knight had talked of creating a telecommunications business employing 1,500 people.
A few days later, though, he publicly retracted his statement:
I’m sorry about this, it has become quite clear to me that what I was using was incorrect language in the heat of an interview,” he said.
“I probably have given offence to a lot of people and I do apologise. I have no-one else to blame other than myself.
“I was doing my best to bring inward investment into Northern Ireland and that’s just the facts of life – I got it wrong and I acknowledge that.
“I don’t know what will happen with the jobs now, I suspect they will not come to Northern Ireland, but it is a great pity.
“I bear responsibility for an incorrect choice of words.”
Back to Belinda
Given all the information we’ve begun to unearth about Christopher C.X. Knight, we would begin to question Belinda’s “origin story” about the Knight Foundation.
Given that Belinda and Igor Proskurov were associates long prior to the founding of the Knight Foundation, and that Christopher Knight and Igor Proskurov had been business associates for some time, we wonder whether the introduction was facilitated by Igor?
We would also question whether Christopher Knight’s conviction as a sex offender might have in any way influenced the court case in which his daughter was allowed to be taken by her mother and grandparents to Ukraine. We have been unable to find the judgment for that case, but we’ll keep looking.
However, in the event that Belinda knew that Christopher Knight was a convicted sex offender, it does seem very peculiar to start a “foundation” with him, particularly one which was supposed to involve combatting child sexual abuse.
There is much more to say about this, and more digging to do, but suffice to say, this new information casts the “Knight Foundation” in a very different light indeed.