Beitar Jerusalem announces sale to French businessman as Hogeg battles charges

Soccer team signs agreement for sale to Stephane Melloul after current owner charged with sex crimes and massive financial fraud

Beitar Jerusalem soccer supporters sing and wave their flag as players enter the pitch during a team training session in Jerusalem, December 11, 2020. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo)
Beitar Jerusalem soccer supporters sing and wave their flag as players enter the pitch during a team training session in Jerusalem, December 11, 2020. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo)

The Beitar Jerusalem soccer team said Thursday it will be sold to a French businessman, as its current owner battles allegations of sex crimes and massive financial fraud.

The soccer club said it had signed a memorandum of understanding for the sale to French-Jewish businessman Stefan Melloul.

The two sides will conduct a short due diligence process, then sign a final agreement for the sale, the team said.

Melloul will transfer $1 million into a trust as part of the agreement as a guarantee for the execution of the sale, and after the sale, he will assume all of the club’s liabilities, the team said.

The announcement did not disclose the final price for the team.

The club’s current owner, Moshe Hogeg, was arrested late last year for alleged sex crimes and cryptocurrency fraud. He was held for nearly a month before being released to house arrest on bail and other financial guarantees amounting to around NIS 70 million ($22 million) in total.

Moshe Hogeg, Beitar Jerusalem owner, seen during the Israeli Premier League match between Beitar Jerusalem and Hapoel Beersheba at the Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem, on August 25, 2019. (Flash90)

Hogeg was arrested along with seven others on suspicion of involvement in alleged massive fraud. He is also suspected of sex crimes, including trafficking and underage prostitution offenses, as well as carrying out indecent acts, sexual harassment, operating a location for the purpose of prostitution, invasion of privacy, bringing an individual into prostitution, and supplying drugs and alcohol to underage girls.

Hogeg has denied all the accusations against him and has said that he was treated cruelly while in police custody to extract information, claims experts said are valid in many cases.

Hogeg is a tech entrepreneur and cryptocurrency trader.

He bought Beitar Jerusalem in 2018. In September of last year, before he was charged with crimes, he said he would sell the club, citing anti-Arab racist tendencies among its “ungrateful” fans.

He faced backlash from the notoriously racist anti-Arab factions among the club’s fans after selling a 50 percent stake in the club in 2020 to Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Nahyan, a member of Abu Dhabi’s ruling family. Al Nahyan pledged to pump $90 million into the team in the coming decade.

Then Israel’s soccer association conducted an investigation that found a potential “significant gap” between Al Nahyan’s declared capital and what he owns in reality. The deal fell through amid reported suspicions of financial misdealing by Al Nahyan.

Beitar is one of the country’s most storied franchises, counting Israeli presidents and prime ministers among its fans.

But it also has drawn negative attention for many years for being the only major club never to have an Arab player. Israel’s Arab minority makes up roughly 20% of the population, and Arab players star on rival teams and in the country’s national squad.

Club officials have in the past said their hands were tied by a hardcore base of far-right fans who wield significant clout over personnel decisions, including a small group of die-hards called La Familia who have engaged in racist behavior during games.

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