One of Israel’s most famous soccer teams, Beitar Jerusalem, has canceled its highly publicized 50 percent sale to a member of the Emirati royal family, an Israeli Football Association committee said Thursday.
Beitar confirmed that it had officially asked to withdraw its request to approve the deal, but said the sale has just been postponed, not canceled altogether.
Beitar’s owner, Moshe Hogeg, has faced backlash from notoriously racist anti-Arab factions of the club’s fanbase after he sold a 50 percent stake in the club 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.
But 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, business news website The Marker reported last month.
In a Thursday statement, Beitar Jerusalem said that the request to approve the deal, a move required by the Israel Football Association for it to go ahead, had only been withdrawn due to a bureaucratic delay involving documents requested of Al Nahyan.
“Following the request of the [Israeli Football Association’s] Transfer Committee for more documents and in the hope of advancing the deal, the owner of the club, Moshe Hogeg, had intended to take off for Dubai in order to meet with Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Nahyan,” the club said. “Unfortunately, the airport is still closed and instead of asking for another extension we preferred to withdraw the current request and submit a new request.”
“The reports that the deal fell through are incorrect,” the statement insisted.
But the Israel Football Association investigation into Al Nahyan, conducted by the Megiddo financial investigations company, reportedly concluded that the sheikh owns dozens of inactive firms and is allegedly connected with businessmen involved in fraud and money laundering.
The main reported finding was that out of Al Nahyan’s stated wealth of $1.6 billion, $1.5 billion is non-tradable bonds belonging to the Venezuelan government, which economists estimate to be useless due to the South American country’s grave economic crisis.
Additionally, other assets declared by the businessman have allegedly turned out to be worth far less in reality.
Beitar and Hogeg had insisted that the deal was kosher.
At an online press conference in Dubai in December announcing the sale, the sheikh said his involvement with Beitar was “pure investment on a personal level.” In response to a Times of Israel question, he said he used his own funds for his share in the club, rather than gathering money from other investors.
Asked by The Times of Israel how he fits into the Emirati royal family, he replied: “If you need more information about myself you can have it on the web, there is Wikipedia that explains everything about myself.”
The page, however, was only a few days old and contained only rudimentary information about the sheikh.