By Andrew Warshaw
February 12 – One of the most controversial takeovers in Middle East football has been dashed, at least temporarily, after the Israeli FA revealed that the sale of Beitar Jerusalem to Hamad bin Khalifa al-Nahyan, a distant member of Abu Dhabi’s ruling family, had been called off following a probe into his finances.
Al-Nahyan was poised to purchase a 50% stake in Beitar, the only club in Israel’s top flight never to have fielded an Arab player. That prompted an outcry from a segment of Beitar’s fans who have traditionally aligned themselves with extreme right-wing politics, with a group of them known as ‘La Familia’ and openly abusive towards Israel’s Arab minority.
Sheikh Hamad’s father is a relative of the United Arab Emirates’ President Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan. Beitar owner Moshe Hogeg has faced a backlash from the club’s notoriously racist anti-Arab factions even though Al-Nahyan promised to invest $90 million into the club over the next ten years with Hogeg remaining a controlling shareholder.
Beitar insists the sale has just been postponed, not cancelled altogether.
In a statement Beitar said that the request to approve the deal, a move required under Israeli FA rules, had been withdrawn due to what it described as a bureaucratic delay.
“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.”
“Reports that the deal fell through are incorrect,” the statement added.
But the Israeli FA, according to local reports, conducted an investigation that found a potential “significant gap” between Al Nahyan’s declared capital and what he actually owns.
The probe reportedly concluded that the sheikh is allegedly connected with businessmen involved in fraud and money laundering. This follows reports last month that claimed he failed to supply an original certificate proving he had a clean criminal record.
Hogeg, a bitcoin millionaire who took over the club in 2018 and has sought to change the image of Beitar, said in a statement at the time the deal was announced: “Together, we all march the club to new days of coexistence, achievements and brotherhood for the sake of our club, community and Israeli sports.”
In his own statement, Al Nahyan commented: “I am thrilled to be a partner in such a glorious club that I have heard so much of and in such a great city, the capital of Israel and one of the holiest cities in the world.”
Yet the marriage between Beitar and an Emirati royal (albeit a distant royal) hardly seemed a match made in heaven, one that now appears at best in serious jeopardy.
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