The Israel Football Association is examining questions concerning the financial muscle of Emirati businessman Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Nahyan, who bought 50 percent of the Israel Premier League’s Beitar Jerusalem soccer team last month for about 100 million shekels ($32 million). The association is worried about major discrepancies between the sheikh’s declaration of assets and what he actually owns.
Last Thursday a meeting was held of the association’s transfer committee – the body that must officially approve the partnership agreement between Sheikh Hamad and Moshe Hogeg, the majority stakeholder of Beitar Jerusalem. Hogeg, representatives of the team and its legal advisers participated in the meeting; the sheikh and his representatives attended via videoconferencing.
The committee did not present any new information to the sheikh, a member of Abu Dhabi’s ruling family, but mostly questioned him regarding his real estate and bond holdings, which he had declared in writing. Committee members did not say a word, however, about what had transpired in the room just a few hours earlier (without Hogeg and the sheikh) – when they sat with representatives of the business intelligence company they’d hired to carry out due diligence on Sheikh Hamad’s assets.
The company hired to carry out the examination is Megiddo Financial Intelligence, a subsidiary of Barlev Associates, which specializes in investigative auditing and is headed by accountant Yehudah Barlev. Megiddo focuses on international business and financial inquiries. Barlev is known for his work on high-profile cases involving Eti Alon and the now-defunct Trade Bank, the Yes satellite broadcaster – as well as the affair involving the former owner of the IDB Group, Nochi Dankner, and its sale to Moti Ben-Moshe.
A substantial number of suspicions regarding Sheikh Hamad were discussed at the preliminary meeting on Thursday. One concerned the possibility that the Emirati is actually a front man. The investigators found that he owns dozens of inactive companies and that there are large discrepancies between the valuation presented in his formal list of assets to the soccer association and their actual value. In addition, information was presented regarding the sheikh’s connections to people who have been tied to fraud and money laundering.
“All the sheikh needs to do is to show that he is wealthy enough to own a team in the premier league, and he showed that,” said sources close to Beitar Jerusalem, after the meeting. “When Hogeg was in Dubai, he was impressed by his home, offices and employees. If he has $1.5 billion or $500 million – it doesn’t matter that much.”
But it seems that Hogeg is not aware of all the information presented to the transfer committee. In addition to the purchase of 50 percent of Beitar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Nahyan also committed to investing approximately 200 million shekels in the soccer club over the coming decade.
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The soccer association’s examination of the buyer is very important for Beitar Jerusalem: The window of opportunity for buying players from other teams closes at the end of this month, says sources close to the team, and if the association does not approve Sheikh Hamad as a new owner and partner, Hogeg will not be able to sign off on the purchase of any new players. The association has 21 days to make a final decision, beginning the day it receives all requisite information about the sale from the team – so the clock has not yet started to wind down.
Meanwhile, Anwar Hussein, CEO of the sheikh’s HBK Department of Projects company, has yet to provide a written response to the questions raised at the committee’s meeting, therefore it is expected that the association’s decision will only be made after it receives and studies these answers.
1. Bonds from Venezuela
Sheikh Hamad takes pride in being part of the royal family of the UAE. He bore a different name until just three years ago, Adil al-Otaiba, and his life story sounds like something out of a soap opera. His parents divorced when he was young, and because of the divorce he carried his mother’s last name – until he reconciled with his father’s family and was allowed to use the name he was given as a child.
The sheikh informed the Israel Football Association that his net worth is an estimated $1.6 billion. His main asset, as listed in the declaration of assets, is Venezuelan government bonds, whose value he estimated at about $1.5 billion (i.e., 95% of his full assets valuation). But these bonds are non-tradable, and because of the deep economic crisis in Venezuela, the payments on the bonds have been suspended by the government. The assumption is that these bonds will never be paid off, and in the best case they may be worth one-10th of their face value. Thus their owner cannot even use them as collateral to receive credit from the banks.
In addition, Sheikh Hamad stated that he owns property in Lebanon that’s worth a few tens of millions of dollars – but the investigation by the investigators found that comparable properties in the area are worth only a few million dollars. His homes in Dubai and Abu Dhabi are estimated by real estate assessors to be worth between $5 million and $8 million, less than half the amount mentioned in his declaration of assets. Moreover, there is less than $4 million in his bank account.
2. Confusing names
Beginning in 2009, Sheikh Hamad established dozens of companies, mostly in Dubai, in the cryptocurrency, renewable energy, oil and natural gas industries. But the investigators could not find any solid information about projects actually carried out by the companies he owns, beyond articles in the media about agreements signed with various companies all over the world.
Another suspicion raised is that the names of some of the companies the sheikh founded are the same as or similar to companies and funds with international reputations. For example, Aida – a private firm owned by the sheikh, which was incorporated in Britain two years ago – is similar to Adia, the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, Abu Dhabi’s sovereign wealth fund, which was established in the mid-1970s.
The HBK group, which controls most of Sheikh Hamad’s assets – shares the same name as a large corporation from Qatar, which has annual revenues of hundreds of millions of dollars. The internet features a large number of reports erroneously linking the Qatari company to the sheikh’s. Both the sheikh and the companies he owns also boast a double-digit number of websites, most of them launched in the past two years.
3. Intermediaries who’ve gotten into trouble all over the globe
The business intelligence investigators found that many of the people with whom Sheikh Hamad has business connections are people whose names have been associated to suspicions and legal snafus in a number of countries – and these include the intermediaries who brokered the Beitar Jerusalem deal.
In putting out feelers to his potential business partner, Hogeg used the services of an intermediary named Naum Koen, known in Israel as Nachshon Nachshonov, an Israeli-Ukrainian businessman who lives in Dubai. Nachshonov, who presents himself as a business adviser to the sheikh, is also a partner in a company named Gemgow, which operates a platform for trading diamonds and other precious stones.
Nachshonov told TheMarker that he made his fortune in trade and brokering deals. In 2012 he went bankrupt because of debts of 740,000 shekels. In September 2013, he left Israel with a temporary permit and spent a few years overseas – even though, as a bankrupt debtor, he was obligated to return to Israel. In the end, after his creditors were repaid, the proceedings against him ceased in 2018. Nachshonov told TheMarker about it that “in business things go up and down.”
Nachshonov’s name came up in two lawsuits in Israeli courts that he was not a party to. In 2016, he was mentioned in a suit filed by Meir Yakubov against the Israel Diamond Exchange. Yakubov claimed he suffered millions of shekels in damage resulting from the negligence of the exchange, which had allowed Nachshonov to allegedly defraud Yakubov in a number of instances and collect debts that never existed, for deals that never took place. The judge ruled in favor of the exchange, noting that Yakubov never bothered to investigate Nachshonov’s credibility, and thus had no one to blame but himself. Nachshonov recently told TheMarker that he denies all the claims raised against him in the lawsuit.
In 2018, Nachshonov was mentioned in a second lawsuit, where he was described as a local importer of low-priced alcoholic beverages from Amsterdam. The lawsuit was between two distant cousins, one of whom loaned the other (the defendant) 600,000 euros to finance the purchase of liquor from Nachshonov – who offered the defendant a large quantity of alcoholic beverages. The lawsuit claims the man paid money directly to Nachshonov, who was supposed to receive the funds in the defendant’s name – and at his request. But allegedly, the man never received the goods and the loan was never paid back.
According to the suit, the defendant told his cousin that Nachshonov carried out a sting operation against him and took all the money for himself. But that claim does not appear in the defense’s brief in the suit, and it claimed the money was never handed over at all. The proceedings in this case are about to enter the evidentiary stage.
Another middleman linked to the Beitar deal is Emirati businessman Sulaiman Al-Fahim, who is involved for the most part in real estate ventures but is also quite well known among soccer fans, especially in Britain: In 2008, he was the “matchmaker” in the deal where the Manchester City club was sold to the royal family of Abu Dhabi. A year later his name surfaced in the context of the sale of the Portsmouth Football Club. The BBC reported that al-Fahim was convicted in the UAE of stealing 5 million pounds from his wife to pay for the purchase of Portsmouth. He began his five-year jail term, but was released a short time later.
Al-Fahim purchased the Portsmouth team from Sacha Gaydamak, son of Russian-Israeli tycoon Arcadi Gaydamak – and sold it after six weeks. Other British reports said al-Fahim never actually transferred the money he’d promised to the club, and as a result it almost went bankrupt. This led to stricter regulations in England concerning the purchase of soccer teams.
For his part, Moshe Hogeg admitted in the past that al-Fahim acted as the broker in the Beitar deal with Sheikh Hamad, but now sources close to Hogeg say that, following revelations about al-Fahim’s shady activities, the two are no longer in contact. Information on al-Fahim can be found by means of a simple search on the internet.
Roman Ziemian is another businessman with ties to Sheikh Hamad, and is even a partner of his in HBK. Like both Hogeg and the sheikh, Ziemian is involved in the cryptocurrency industry, and owns a company named FutureNet. TheMarker has obtained information that in 2019, the government of Poland issued a warning against investing in that company – and suspected that its operations followed the pattern of Ponzi scheme.
In response to this article, the Israel Football Association said it “was not possible to comment on the materials presented to the committee.”
A spokesman, on behalf of Moshe Hogeg: “The sale to Sheikh Hamad will in the future help the Beitar Jerusalem team reach the peak of Israeli soccer and become a part of European soccer. We are astounded by the actions of people in the association, along with the attempts by people on its behalf, to sabotage the deal and severely harm the team.
“We hope that the harsh reception Sheikh Hamad received will not cause him to regret the deal and go back on his desire to invest in Beitar. We are calling for the heads of the association to act as would be expected of them on behalf of Israeli soccer and stop trying to sabotage this deal, by means of attempts that have included no less than the hiring of an investigations firm and leaking biased and misleading information on its part.
“We are asking to consider for a moment what would have happened if they [the association] would have aggressively investigated Mitchell Goldhar [the Canadian billionaire owner of the Maccabi Tel Aviv soccer team] before he arrived in Israel. Also, as opposed to what was claimed, Sulaiman al-Fahim has no connection, and never had one, to the deal [i.e., Beitar’s sale].”
No response was received by TheMarker on behalf of Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Nahyan.