The FC Barcelona soccer team said Friday that it has canceled a deal with crypto firm Ownix after the arrest of one of the latter’s consultants, Beitar Jerusalem owner Moshe Hogeg.
Police arrested Hogeg and seven other people on Thursday on suspicion of involvement in an alleged massive fraud related to cryptocurrencies. Law enforcement said that the suspects stole tens of millions of shekels.
On November 5, Ownix announce that it was partnering with FC Barcelona to launch non-fungible tokens, or NFTs, that would be bought using the digital currency known as Ethereum.
The NFTs would have allowed people to buy digital certificates of authenticity for virtual items linked to the team’s history.
“In light of information received today that goes against the club’s value, FC Barcelona hereby communicates the cancellation of the contract to create and market NFT digital assets with Ownix with immediate effect,” the Catalan club said Friday in a statement.
Ownix tweeted in response that it had terminated its deal with Hogeg to provide consultation services. The company said the decision was made at Hogeg’s request.
Ownix also denied any connection to Hogeg’s arrest and said that the Beitar Jerusalem owner did not own any shares in the company.
Police said Thursday that they had arrested Hogeg, who is also suspected of having committed crimes entailing sexual and moral turpitude. No further details were given.
Earlier this month, a well-known model said that Hogeg sexually assaulted her years ago, when she was 17. Channel 13 cited the model saying Hogeg entered her hotel room and tried to force himself on her, but she managed to fend him off.
She told close acquaintances and her agent about the incident at the time, but the agent — who had business dealings with Hogeg — did not report it to her parents or to law enforcement, according to the report. No police complaint was filed either.
Hogeg denied the accusation and said the sexual interaction was consensual, adding that he had taken a lie detector test confirming his version.
In September, Hogeg announced that he was selling Beitar Jerusalem, one of Israel’s premier soccer teams, after three years as owner that saw him confront an anti-Arab fanbase and try — but fail — to sell half of it to an Emirati businessman.
Hogeg, a tech entrepreneur and cryptocurrency trader, bought Beitar in 2018 and said he set out to change its culture.
However, he faced backlash from the notoriously racist anti-Arab factions among the club’s fans after in 2020 he said he was selling 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.
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, business news website The Marker reported.
After that, the deal fell through.
In May, Hogeg was one of a group of businesspeople sued by former employees of an Israeli venture capital fund who claim that three of Israel’s largest initial blockchain coin offerings of 2017 and 2018 were outright scams. The three ICOs, launched by Sirin Labs, Stx Technologies Limited (Stox) and Leadcoin, collectively raised $250 million from investors around the world.
The plaintiffs claim that none of the three companies ever developed a product as they had promised investors. Instead, the plaintiffs allege, the defendants brazenly appropriated investors’ money for their own personal use.
Hogeg has denied the allegations and said the lawsuit is an attempt by disgruntled employees to extort him.
Before the suspects’ identities were cleared for publication, Hogeg canceled a planned online conference on cryptocurrencies scheduled for Thursday evening. “It’s all for the best,” he wrote in a Facebook post.
Lawyers representing Hogeg said in a statement Thursday that he “vehemently denies the suspicions against him and is cooperating fully with investigators.”
“We are sure that at the end of the investigation it will become clear that there are no grounds to the allegations against him,” attorneys Moshe Mazor and Amit Hadad said.
They also dismissed the allegations as “issues that have been published in the past on behalf of interested parties.