Fi­nan­cial scan­dals rock Is­raeli sports

The Jewish Chronicle - - World News - BY AN­SHEL PF­EF­FER JERUSALEM

A SUI­CIDE THAT WAS seen last Mon­day sim­ply as a per­sonal and fam­ily tragedy has swiftly de­vel­oped into a storm en­gulf­ing not only Is­rael’s most suc­cess­ful bas­ket­ball team, but the en­tire sport­ing es­tab­lish­ment.

Moni Fanan was of one of the most con­tro­ver­sial fig­ures in Is­raeli sports, a gen­eral man­ager for 15 years of Mac­cabi Tel Aviv bas­ket­ball club, the peren­nial cham­pi­ons of Is­rael’s premier league and five-times Euro­pean Cham­pi­onship win­ner. His sui­cide in his north Tel Aviv home was ini­tially ex­plained by his fam­ily as his in­abil­ity to deal with the empti­ness in his life af­ter he was forced out of his po­si­tion with the team last year, amid charges of fi­nan­cial mis­man­age­ment.

But within a mat­ter of hours, a dif­fer­ent nar­ra­tive be­gan to emerge.

At first there were ru­mours, then def­i­nite ac­counts, of how Mr Fanan had served as an un­of­fi­cial bank for dozens of bas­ket­ball play­ers who would de­posit large sums with him — the min­i­mum in­vest­ment was $100,000 — in re­turn for an ex­ceed­ingly hand­some in­ter­est.

“It was al­most like pocket money,” said one for­mer Mac­cabi player.

The ru­mours had been swirling for years but now the ques­tion mark was un­avoid­able. At first, some sources claimed that Mr Fanan had in­vested the money with Lon­don fi­nancier Nick Levene. But in an in­ter­view with an Is­raeli sports chan­nel, Mr Levene stren­u­ously de­nied hav­ing any busi­ness con­tacts with Mr Fanan.

It now seems that Mr Fanan, who had been asked by many of his de­pos­i­tors to re­turn their orig­i­nal in­vest­ments, had gone to loan sharks. Af­ter de­fault­ing on the re­pay­ments and re­ceiv­ing threats, he took his own life.

On Sun­day, the Tax Au­thor­ity be­gan its own in­ves­ti­ga­tion. Os­ten­si­bly, they are in­ves­ti­gat­ing whether Mr Fanan’s in­vestors failed to pay tax on their earn­ings, but there is a much more se­ri­ous ques­tion to be an­swered. Did play­ers and of­fi­cials of ri­val clubs and bas­ket­ball ref­er­ees also re­ceive in­ter­est pay­ments from Mr Fanan, and had that had any in­flu­ence on game re­sults?

The in­ves­ti­ga­tors’ first move was to raid the Mac­cabi offices and ques­tion the team’s fi­nan­cial di­rec­tor. A for­mer Mac­cabi Cap­tain, Na­dav Hene­feld, and its for­mer coach, Tzvika Sherf, now the na­tional team coach, were next to be ques­tioned. Shi­mon Mizrahi, Mac­cabi’s eter­nal chair­man, and David Federman, the mil­lion­aire owner of the team, are to be sum­moned next week.

For years, Mac­cabi Tel Aviv, de­spite ri­val teams’ ac­cu­sa­tions of un­der­hand deal­ings, was un­touch­able. Dubbed “the coun­try’s team”, for sup­ply­ing a rare dose of in­ter­na­tional suc­cess to a na­tion starved of sport­ing achieve­ments, the club is be­ing dragged into a quag­mire of al­le­ga­tions and probes.

But it may not stop with Mac­cabi. A Pan­dora’s box has been opened and there is a new at­mos­phere of clean­ing the stables.

Next on the agenda are calls by se­nior fig­ures in the fi­nan­cial au­thor­i­ties to fi­nally in­ves­ti­gate the per­va­sive ru­mours that some of the coun­try’s se­nior foot­ball teams are con­trolled by or­gan­ised crime gangs, re­sult­ing in game “sell­ing” and the ma­nip­u­la­tion of the foot­ball pools.

Is­raeli sports will never be the same.

Mac­cabi Tel Aviv’s man­ager Moni Fanan is em­braced by a player af­ter a victory in 2005. Fanan’s sui­cide has thrown the team into tur­moil

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