UAE royal’s investment in Israeli football club put on hold

Questions over the sheikh’s finances have halted his proposed purchase of a 50 percent stake in Beitar Jerusalem.

The deal was seen as a turning point for a club that had gained notoriety for its racist fans and its refusal to sign Arab players [File: Nir Elias/Reuters]

The acquisition of a 50 percent stake in Israel’s Beitar Jerusalem Football Club by a United Arab Emirates royal has been frozen due to questions over the sheikh’s finances.

The club, which has gained notoriety for the racism of its fans and their “deaths to Arabs” chants, said on Thursday the Rights Transfer Committee of Israel’s football federation, which must approve the sale, requested more documents to continue with the purchase.

The team had said Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Nahyan, a member of the Abu Dhabi ruling family, has pledged to invest 300 million shekels ($92m) in the club over the next 10 years.

But in recent weeks, questions have reportedly arisen about the sheikh’s true wealth.

The Marker, an Israeli business news website, reported last month that an audit of the sheikh’s finances commissioned by Israel’s football federation revealed several inactive companies and financial discrepancies.

Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Nahyan, right, and Beitar Jerusalem owner Moshe Hogeg in Dubai [File: Beitar Jerusalem via Reuters]

The statement said club owner Moshe Hogeg had planned to fly to Dubai to consult with the sheikh but was unable to travel because of the recent closure of Israel’s airport due to coronavirus restrictions.

“We preferred to withdraw the request, and hand in a new one instead,” it said. “The reports of the deal being off are false.”

The purchase made headlines in December amid a flurry of business deals between Israel and the UAE following their move to establish formal diplomatic relations in September.

It was also seen as a turning point for a club whose fanbase has become synonymous with racism.

Beitar, loosely linked to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, is one of the country’s most storied clubs, winning 13 trophies and counting Israeli presidents and prime ministers among its fans.

Al-Nahyan’s and Hogeg sign an agreement in Dubai [File: Beitar Jerusalem via Reuters]

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

Club officials have in the past said their hands were tied by a hardcore base of fans who wield significant clout over personnel decisions.

Hogeg, who made millions of dollars trading cryptocurrency, told The Associated Press news agency late last year he hoped to remove the stain of racism from the team while transforming it into a football powerhouse with a diverse lineup.

“I love football, and I thought it was the opportunity to buy this club and to fix this racist problem. And then I could do something that is bigger than football,” he said.

Source: News Agencies