Premier League clubs risk the possibility of demotion and being prosecuted under the new Criminal Finance Act, a leading city firm told AFP.

Under the new law, which came into force on September 30, any company, which includes football clubs, can be held responsible for their employees or agents with whom they do business if tax evasion becomes an issue.

The new legislation places the onus firmly on clubs to carry out due diligence on players and agents, says Tom Shave, partner in business tax at Smith & Williamson, the accountancy, investment management and tax group.

"If a case goes to a jury the reputational damage is already done. Being seen as a facilitator of tax evasion in the current environment is viewed dimly," he told AFP in an interview at the firm's city headquarters.

"It depends how the English Premier League see it if you have a criminal prosecution in relation to your activity.

"This criminal prosecution for tax evasion remains to be tested as it has just come in but you would imagine there are implications for a club should such a case proceed."

Peter Fairchild, also a partner at Smith & Williamson, with a long list of top level footballers as clients, says the EPL might take a very dim view if one of their members was found to be guilty of facilitating tax evasion.

"The Premier League will want to maintain its reputation with fans and sponsors. We’ve seen point deductions where clubs have entered administration and parallels can be drawn," he said.

"The club in question will not have planned for this and as a result will suddenly see cash payments to them being withheld which will strangle cash flow and their players needing to be paid each week."

- 'No short cut' -

Fairchild said many clubs don't seem yet to be aware they could be hit hard by the legislation.

"It is seriously scary the criminal element of the legislation," he said.

"I am a bit surprised we haven't had more enquiries. Many clubs are only just getting to grips with the problem, perhaps thinking that it doesn’t apply to them or that there is a short cut.

"But there is no short cut. (The tax authorities) will come and ask their questions and if you don't have a robust defence the weight of legislation will be used against you."

Fairchild sees the forthcoming transfer window in January being even more hectic and intense with the new legislation having come into effect.

"When it comes to January 31st those clubs that are struggling, or trying to get deals done, won't want to be told have you taken the time to go through the proper process and complied with the check list regarding the player they are targeting.

"The only thing a Premier League club, battling for survival, will want to do is buy a key player and preserve their EPL status.

"The prepared clubs will be asked key questions such as 'have you done this due diligence?'.

"They'll speak to external parties and potentially hire additional staff. Those clubs who don't take it seriously could find themselves facing an HMRC (Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs) investigation in a year or two.

"If that investigation finds problems then they could suffer an unlimited fine."