Jones’s position has been under intense scrutiny in recent weeks, with rumours rife in the Canberra press of board dissatisfaction stemming from his handling of the aftermath of a nine month investigation by the club, the ARU and accounting firm KPMG’s forensic arm. In September, Jones handed the documents, which reportedly examined 50,000 emails and 45,000 pages of documents, to federal police for investigation – an investigation that is still ongoing.
The club said at the time the inquiry “related to a series of transactions and agreements that occurred between 2009 and 2013 and are linked to the sale of the Brumbies’ former headquarters at Griffith and the subsequent move to the University of Canberra”.
Fagan was CEO at the time of that move, enduring a controversial push to secure territory government approval for a $30 million, 130-apartment complex to be built at the Griffith site, which the club sold for $11.375 million, saving them from insolvency.
(There has been no suggestion that Fagan is linked to the investigation.)
However, a major rift has since emerged in the long-term partnership with the university, whose vice chancellor Stephen Parker has publicly threatened Jones with defamation action over an unknown incident or incidents.
On Sunday, in an incendiary interview on Canberra’s ABC Grandstand, Jones was scathing about the move to the university base, saying “the Brumbies rightly or wrongly invested close on $7 million in the facility there” – although it’s been reported the club’s investment was $5 million on the construction of the facility.
“The Brumbies’ financial position is they made losses ten of the last 11 years and to invest the large proceeds of the sale of their only asset immediately into pre-paid rent for 30 years and to buy a new facility that they don’t own any equity in and that there’s no recourse to actually ever get any of that money back, you’d have to sort of go, ‘is that a clever decision?’” Jones said in an interview with Grandstand’s Tim Gavel.
“And I just look at that, having… worked as an investment banker and various things, and sort of go ‘Hmmm…that’s an interesting call’.”
Fagan would not respond to Jones’s comments when contacted by InDaily yesterday.
But only hours later, the Brumbies confirmed Jones had been stood down, in a vague statement posted on the club’s website.
Brumbies chairman Robert Kennedy said: “It was with great regret that I informed Michael of the Board’s decision. However, I believe this decision is in the best long term interests of the Brumbies. I also want to reassure our business partners, stakeholders, players, staff and members that the Board has full confidence in the remaining executive management team within the Brumbies and our current financial position to continue operations throughout the 2016 season.”
Jones’ standing down followed a surprise visit to Canberra by Australian rugby boss Bill Pulver yesterday, with Brumbies chairman Rob Kennedy informing the CEO of his decision hours later.
The club’s general manager of community rugby, Craig Leseberg, will take over as interim CEO, while it is still unclear whether Jones will fight or accept the decision.
However, he was in a bullish mood when he spoke out at the weekend, attributing rumours of his impending demise to “lies, myths and fairytales”.
“If it persists, it’s not a veiled threat it’s a very real threat, I only know how to act and that is you can’t fight half a war,” he warned.
“So if I go to war, it’s going to be ugly and there are going to be a lot of people who get burned by it. I desperately don’t want to do that, so all I’m asking is for the people out there who are having a hack at me, they know who they are, back off.”
He also sent an ominous warning to the ARU, saying further destabilisation “will have a major impact on Australian rugby, because if the Brumbies cease to be an entity, which is one of the very foreseeable outcomes – and has been a stated outcome of some of the people having a hack at us – if that is allowed to happen, the ARU will be in default of the SANZAAR [Super Rugby’s governing body] agreement, because they are required to field five teams every week”.
“And if this organisation folds and goes into administration the ARU is in default,” he said.
“They are big stakes games that a lot of these guys are playing, and it’s fairly irresponsible of most of them to do it. They are looking at self-interest rather than the interest of the organisation. I’m trying to avoid the fight – I’ve been taking hits since December, I weathered the storm, and it’s the same guys again.”
Jones has been in the chief executive chair since the start of last year.
He said “there are a lot of people who are nervous and uncomfortable [about the police investigation] and that’s their problem, it’s not my problem”.
“They feel throwing mud at me is their best defence … I’ve got big shoulders, I’ve got to wear that,” he said.
Jones said he was “a change agent – that’s what I came in here to do, to fix the Brumbies and put [them] on a better course”.
“That’s what I’m doing… if that gets people who have their own personal interests hurt by that, then I do not shy away from that and I do not apologise,” he said.
Despite the off-field turmoil, the Brumbies are flying in the Super Rugby competition, with three wins from four starts.
The Crows launch their AFL season with an away fixture against North Melbourne on Saturday night.
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