A controversial Kazakh-born property mogul has emerged as the “front-runner” to buy Aston Villa, The Independent can reveal.

Villa were formally put up for sale by their American owner, Randy Lerner, earlier this month and are expected to fetch at least £250m.

The Independent understands from a source involved in the bidding race that Tevfik Arif, founder of New York-based property firm Bayrock Group and a business associate of US billionaire Donald Trump is a “front-runner”.

Arif was arrested and questioned in October 2010 in a high-profile raid by Turkish police over claims that he supplied Russian businessmen and officials with Eastern European prostitutes for up to $10,000 a night on the Savarona, a luxury yacht originally used by Turkey’s founder Mustafa Ataturk. He was acquitted of all charges in April 2011.

Arif worked for 17 years in hotel management at the Soviet Ministry of Commerce and Trade, before developing the luxurious Labada hotel in Turkey after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Moving to the US, he partnered with Trump on a number of projects including the upmarket 46-storey Trump SoHo hotel and residential tower in New York.

The source said: “There are around six to eight interested parties and he is the front-runner. Arif and his family are serious contenders.”

If successful, he would be the first Kazakh owner of a Premier League club, although Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich owns Chelsea and Uzbekistan’s Alisher Usmanov is a major shareholder in the FA Cup winners Arsenal. Villa will need an owner with deep pockets after losing £52m in the year to May 2013.