Negotiations to sell the scandal-ridden Beitar Jerusalem soccer club broke down just before a deal was closed on Tuesday, with the potential buyer walking away from the table due to frustrations over being left alone to deal with the organization’s significant financial debt.
Beitar’s current owner Moshe Hogeg held a press conference in which he pleaded with fans and the general public to assist in the sale, claiming that only an additional several million shekels were needed for it to be able to go forward.
The Beitar owner was arrested late last year on suspicion of 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 (more than $20 million) in total.
The club has been experiencing a rough patch recently, forcing it to forego players due to an unprecedented economic crisis that has resulted in about NIS 30 million (around $8.8 million) in debt.
Hogeg, whose accounts have been confiscated by the police as the investigation into his suspected fraud continues, has been unable to pay the debts, raising the possibility of complete bankruptcy.
He insisted on Tuesday that he had tried to sell Beitar before his arrest, saying that his disagreements with fans over their opposition to his signing of Muslim players and attempts to sell the club to an Emirati owner eventually became unbridgeable.
Hogeg said he turned to every person he could think of to try and sell the team after the deal with Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Nahyan also fell through.
Earlier this summer, talks advanced with businessman and ex-Bnei Yehuda soccer club owner Barak Abramov and they were thought to be nearing an agreement when the latter announced on Tuesday that he was walking away from the sale.
Abramov had demanded guarantees from the Jerusalem municipality for a loan in order to make the purchase.
Hogeg also tore into the municipality during his press conference, saying the city, along with Israeli police, were acting as if Beitar was “their property.” He insisted that Abramov was not asking for money from the municipality, only credit that would be returned.
The municipality in its own statement denied the accusations and insisted that it had done everything it could to assist Abramov in the sale but that it does not have the means to approve loans.
Hogeg appealed to the fan base, saying, “I’m calling on anyone who can help Beitar [because] the club is dying. We need urgent help to get [things] under control. If everyone makes an effort then it will be possible to save Beitar Jerusalem… It’s still possible.”
He urged fans to become members and petition Abramov to return to the table.
“I and hundreds of thousands of Beitar fans are calling on Abramov — come back. We have 17 hours to save Beitar.”
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.