TIMELINE 30th SEPTEMBER 2012 15.05 GMT:
For months now the loyal fans of British football club Leeds United have been waiting not for news of the latest new player signing but for the details of a proposed takeover of their club by middle-east investors.
A member of the Bahraini royal family, Sheikh Abdulrahman bin Mubarak Hamad Al Khalifa, who claimed to have “fallen in love with the club when he was 11 years old”, tried to take over Leeds United in 2003.
More recently he has been named as being involved with a consortium that has been negotiating with the football club’s owner – 80 year old Ken Bates – all summer.
Sheikh Abdulrahman is also well known in the UK for an alleged betting debt in excess of £350,000 (BHD207,230 or $565,000) which he is reputed to have owed to the British betting firm Spreadex since 2008. (See previous article: “Fake Sheikhs and Bahrain’s Fake Olympic Team” )
In the murky world of Middle East finance, it is likely that the Sheikh is still involved somewhere along the line, but his name was not mentioned when it was announced this week that an outfit called “GFH Capital” from Dubai have signed an agreement to take over the club.
Although financial details have not been released, it is thought the price the group is paying for Ken Bates shareholding is around £50 million (BHD 30,274,234 or $80.8 million dollars).
Four businessmen associated with GFH Capital attended last week’s game at the Elland Road ground, when Leeds beat Nottingham Forest 2-1, including the deputy chief executive officer of GFH Capital, David Haigh, and their chief investment officer, Salem Patel.
According to Patel, one of the their interests in the football club is that, despite having financial troubles in the past, it currently has no debt other than its ongoing lease.
GFH Capital hope to acquire the Elland Road site at some time in the future.
But their main interest is without a doubt that as from next season broadcasting rights for Premium League clubs will be a minimum of £60 million.
If Leeds, to the delight of their fans no doubt, can return to the top league, then £60 million would soon cover any interest payments that GFH Capital will probably be paying on money they will have borrowed to buy the club in the first place.
Apart from David Haigh (whose parents were from Leeds apparently and who also set up the political group “Conservatives in the Gulf” ) and Salam Patel, also present at last week’s game in Ken Bates’ director’s box was Hisham Alrayes, currently acting CEO of Gulf Finance House (GFH) of Bahrain.
GFH are 100% owners of GFH Capital, its subsidiary, and GFH’s Chairman, Esam Janahi, who was unavailable for last week’s meeting with Bates for “personal reasons”, has a long history of financial dealing across the Middle East, India and beyond.
However, red cards have been raised over the ability of GFH, which has suffered from the world economic crisis and in particular from falling land prices in Bahrain, to properly fund the Leeds deal.
Exotix, an investment firm that specialises in distressed assets, says in a research note that GFH is at “serious risk of default” and that its operations were not producing significant cash enabling it to pay future debts. “We remain wary of GFH’s ability to carry on as a going concern …” the research note continued.
According to Exotix, GFH has total debt amounting to $252 million and in May it received permission from creditors to restructure a $110 million debt that was outstanding. The National has further information, HERE:
A letter dated May 14 from the group’s auditors, KPMG, apparently says GFH “had accumulated losses of $300.69 million contractual obligations… and its current contractual obligations exceeded its liquid assets”. In other words, GFH already owes more than the value of any saleable assets that it holds.
While GFH Capital is a separate legal entity with its own funds and balance sheet, some are concerned that it plans to purchase Leeds with debt that could be put on the club’s balance sheet, an approach used in several foreign takeovers of English football clubs, notably Liverpool and Manchester United. More in the Independent, HERE:
GFH is well known in Bahrain for building the twin glass towers in the Financial Harbour district of Manama, the capital, a controversial development whose expensive office blocks remain largely empty.
According to an article published by Reuters in June 2011, “Land in the Gulf Arab region is largely controlled by a small number of ruling families who use it as a kind of currency, doling out plots to favored families and developers to forge political relationships and make money.
For it to work, the system depends on businessmen like Janahi, merchants who ostensibly operate independently from the state but whose success rests, at least in part, on political connections”.
“Our investigation shows,” continues Reuters, “The company charged investors huge markups on land deals and took out enormous up-front fees.
Such fees are legal in the Gulf but western bankers say they would be highly unusual in Europe or the United States, where the industry collects big payouts only when a project is successfully built and sold.
Documents obtained show that GFH, which has teetered on the brink of collapse for several months , also sometimes shifted investor money from one project to plug holes in another. The documents also suggest that GFH’s property projects were hurt by blurred lines between the personal interests of Janahi [the Chairman] and GFH itself. Investments and payments seemed to move back and forth between the two with very little scrutiny”.
Reuters says that “investors in GFH have been left with huge losses — $1.07 billion in 2009 and 2010 — and plenty of questions about whether the company’s myriad projects were ever going to be built in the first place”.
More recently GFH reported a profit of $4.7 million in the 2nd quarter of 2012, compared with a loss of $11.2 million in the same period a year earlier.
There are also questions around the connections of Bahrain’s dictators, the Al Khalifa family with GFH.
Documents shown to Reuters suggest that the “Ministry of Finance transferred the land on which GFH built its towers to the Bahrain Financial Harbour Company in 2003.
Bankers with knowledge of the deal say Prime Minister Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman al-Khalifa, who has governed Bahrain since independence four decades ago, granted the land in return for a 50 percent stake in the project. The other 50 percent was owned by GFH”.
The Bahrain Financial Harbour Company is chaired by Sheikh Rashid Khalifa Hamad al-Khalifa, the antique Prime Minister’s son-in-law, just another member of the ruling family that holds 50% of the Government’s cabinet positions and controls almost every other aspect of Bahrain’s political life, economy, judiciary, military and security forces and its media.
“Local bankers estimate GFH raised a total of $5 billion between 2002 and 2011 – much of that money is still locked up in unfinished projects”. You can read much more detail of on GFH’s “dodgy deals” in the Reuters special report, HERE:
For the majority of Bahrainis, the Financial Harbour and companies like GFH have come to symbolise everything they hate about the Al Khalifa Government, accusing it of corruption, lack of transparency, torture, human rights abuse and the trial of dissidents who oppose it, on false charges.
Commenting on the takeover of Leeds United by the Bahraini financial conglomerate, Gary Cooper, Chairman of the Leeds United Supporters Trust, said, “We’re hoping for investment in the team and for Leeds United to be glorious again”.
Leeds was relegated from the Premier League in 2004. With the right investment, good management and purchasing power to buy more first-class players, it stands a chance of making a significant come back.
However, given the risks with GFH, lets hope its fans are not left yet again with a club weighed down with financial problems – but this time with the added tarnish of being run and financed by leading members of one of the world’s most suppressive dictatorships.
Not content with imposing an extreme prison sentence of 3 years on Nabeel Rajab, President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, for “illegal assembly”, the Bahrain Government’s Minister of State for Media Affairs, ironically called Samera Rajab, gave a press conference on Saturday responding to widespread international criticism of the sentence and virtually blaming Nabeel Rajab personally for most of Bahrain’s problems.
The minister claimed firstly that Nabeel Rajab had had a “free and fair trial”.
This of course is impossible when the king, his family and the administration to whom you are opposed also make, impose and administer the laws and control the judiciary. With members of the ruling Al Khalifa family acting as judges (no jury), who is going to oppose their wishes?
Although Nabeel Rajab has the right of appeal and the expectation (or at least hope) is that the term of the sentence will be reduced, 3 years is extreme by any measure. In any Western country a fine, a conditional discharge would be more likely or a worst a couple of weeks in prison for a repeat offence – but 3 years?
This is nothing but spite and vindictiveness and an attempt to remove the leadership of the protest movement. (EDITOR: Bring on a new generation of leaders I say!)
In her press conference (reported in the Gulf Daily News as “Justice Done”!) the Minister then went on to claim that Nabeel Rajab’s call to protest “are reported to have caused riots, road blocks, fires, and destruction of public and private property”.
Where is the direct evidence for that? Especially as Nabeel has a reputation for opposing violence and has only ever promoted peaceful demonstration.
But he is also now responsible not only for his own behaviour but apparently for that of everyone who opposes the Al Khalifa Government! In fact, violence has arisen because the frustration after more than a year – actually generations – of failure by the Government to respond to calls for democracy and sectarian equality, has boiled over into anger.
“These acts of incitement and direct participation,” the Minister blathered on, “Have compromised public order and the safety of citizens through the use of petrol bombs, along with other improvised weapons, against public and private property; as well as assault against police officers, leaving a number of them injured”.
(This is the same Information Minister whose criteria for “justice” is based on an expressed admiration for Sadam Hussein, the former dictator in Iraq!)
So now Nabeel is also responsible for “petrol bombing”, the use of “improvised weapons”, destruction of “public and private property”, “assaulting police officers” and “leaving a number of them injured”.
As Nabeel Rajab has never done any of these things personally and there was no evidence to show that he had or has ever incited anyone else to do them, there can be no doubt that both his arrest, trial and sentence are purely, 100% political and therefore vindictive.
On top of all that Nabeel Rajab is, according to the Minister responsible as well for “direct negative impact on economic and commercial activity in those areas of the capital which have prompted proprietors and businesses owners to request intervention from the Ministry of Interior to protect their interests and immediate safety”.
So somehow Nabeel has managed to “ruin the economy of Bahrain” as well. Nothing to do then with the violence perpetrated by the security forces against protesters and the excessive use of teargas and shotgun pellets?
They will be blaming him next for the sharp rise in insurance premiums to cruise liner companies preventing them from calling at Manama and to Bahrain’s failure to win more than one bronze medal at the Olympics! You can read the full report at the Information Affairs Authority (IAA) website, HERE:
Meanwhile, other leading Opposition figures, Zainab AlKhawaja, her father Abdulhadi AlKhawaja and 12 other of his compatriots all sit in jail as trials and appeals are delayed time after time on the whim of the presiding judge on the day.
The justice system in Bahrain is a joke and testimony to the ignorance of the ruling Al Khalifa family who think they can continue to suppress the legitimate claims of the majority of their population for democracy and the right to freedom of expression and assembly.
This stupid obstinacy will cost them dearly – eventually. Suppression breeds resistance – a law of nature. Extreme suppression breeds extreme resistance. History and the political direction of the 21st century are not on the Al Khalifas’ side. Sumood! (Steadfast!)
Please sign and support the AVAAZ petition to free Nabeel Rajab, HERE:
More than 5000 people worldwide have signed in the last 3 weeks.
TIMELINE – 31st JULY 2012 00.03 GMT:
This is a tale of the 3 “Fake Sheikhs” (there may be more) from Bahrain, who are not what they pretend to be, and the “fake Bahrain Olympic Team”.
“Fake Sheikh” No. 1 is Sheikh Abdulrahman bin Mubarak Hamad Al Khalifa, sometimes described as a “businessman” and a member of Bahrain’s ruling Al Khalifa family.
Normally, you would have expected Sheikh Abdulrahman, who seems to have a keen interest in gambling and horse racing in particularly, to have been at the famous Newmarket racecourse in the UK a couple of weeks ago, to see the fine racehorse Shantaram win the Bahrain Trophy.
Perhaps it was a pious attack of conscience at the approach of Ramadan that deterred him from attending?
Or perhaps it was the fact he now owes the British betting company Spreadex a reputed £350,000 (BD207,230) in lost bets.
Spreadex have been trying to get this back since 2008 when the Sheikh apparently owned a couple of racehorses called Dear Maurice and Royal Jazra.
Now the Sheikh’s name has reappeared in the UK as heading a group of investors who are trying to buy the football club, Leeds United.
Leeds used to be a leading British club but in recent years have fallen on hard times despite having a strong fan base and they were relegated from the Premier League in 2004.
The Sheikh, who is a former president of Al Najma Football Club in Bahrain, tried and failed to buy Leeds United in 2003. At the time the Sheikh was quoted as saying:
“I fell in love with the club when I was 11 years old when Leeds played Chelsea in the 1970 FA Cup final. It was fated that I should love the club. Whether that fate will determine that I can save them 30 years later, I don’t know. Leeds mean everything to me, I was born to support them. Those who are closest to me, my friends and my family, know what Leeds United mean to me”.
(EDITOR: I am sure other members of the Al Khalifa family, and in fact all citizens of Bahrain, are deeply moved by his enthusiasm.)
The Leeds United board of directors has granted the Sheikh’s consortium time to conduct “due diligence” into the club’s financial records, but the clubs fans under the umbrella of the Leeds United Supporters Trust are getting impatient at what seems like a long delay.
“Our members want to support a transparent and open Leeds United and being kept in the dark about who currently owns or runs their football club does nothing to achieve this, ” said a Trust spokesman frustrated at the lack of information over takeover talks which have been going on for months now. The value of the bid is thought to be £50 million (BD 29.8 million).
Leeds fans may like to think long and hard before allowing a member of Bahrain’s ruling family who have deliberately targeted, persecuted and prosecuted Bahraini sportsmen, to take over the running of their club.
EDITOR: If the Sheikh succeeds in his bid, fans may not be too keen on the long term outcome either. Spreadex are unavailable for comment.
SHEIKH NASSER ATTENDS GAMES TO SUPPORT BAHRAIN’S “FAKE OLYMPIC TEAM”:
“Fake Sheikh” No. 2 is of course Sheikh Nasser bin Hamad Al Khalifa who contributes to all sorts of charitable causes in Bahrain but is firmly on record accused, including in court transcripts, of persecuting and even personally torturing members of the Shia community in last years uprisings.
Despite our campaign to prevent Sheikh Nasser from attending the London Olympics on the basis that he spearheaded a committee that wrecked the lives of at least 150 Bahraini athletes and sports officials, the Sheikh, as president of Bahrain’s Olympic Committee, did make it to the opening ceremony last Friday.
In the photograph you can see that he was supported by Bahrain’s Foreign Minister, Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed bin Mohammed Al Khalifa, whom the Bahrain Government clearly sent to the Opening Ceremony to lend weight to the proceedings.
No doubt they staggered to their feet, considering the lateness of the hour, to applaud the entry of the “Fake Bahrain Olympic Team” as they entered the stadium in the parade of 204 participating nations.
“Fake” because, trouble is, only one member of the 14 member Bahrain Olympic team, consisting of 8 women and 6 men, originates from Bahrain, all the rest being naturalised citizens.
While it is not unusual for Olympic sports participants to change country, particularly when they have dual nationality, it is unusual to, as it seems, virtually “buy” your whole team in.
No doubt the Bahrain officials were also on their feet to applaud the entry of the teams from Kenya and Ethiopia, which is where most of their athletes seem to have originated.
This piece of typical Al Khalifa chicanery, presumably based on money, is unlikely to raise much enthusiasm back home in Bahrain in even the most deluded of the “royal” family’s supporters.
Meanwhile, at least 20 athletes remain in Bahrain’s prisons, having been given sentences in military courts on trumped up charges from last year’s disturbances. Some others of Bahrain’s best sportsmen now play for team’s abroad.
As it says in this Time article, the Al Khalifa government, having “eviscerated” its sports community, is reaping its just desserts in the athletics field. Though it is sad for the people of Bahrain and a waste of the collective talents of nearly 70% of its population.
Bahrain did win a gold medal in the men’s 1500 metre track final at Beijing in 2008. Unfortunately, the “Bahraini athlete”, Rashid Ramzi, later tested positive for the performance enhancing drug CERA and his medal and certificate had to be returned.
You will not be surprised to learn that Ramzi was born in Asfi, Morocco and became a “Bahraini citizen” in 2002 after “joining” the Bahrain armed services.
“DEEPLY RELIGIOUS” RELATIVE OF KING HAMAD REMOVED FROM FLIGHT COMPLETELY DRUNK AT 10.00 am:
And the last “Fake Sheikh”? He remains a bit of a mystery as the UK police have not released his name, though they have given his age as 28.
This mystery Sheikh, “a close relative of King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa of Bahrain”, was ejected from a British Airways Boeing 777 flight to Doha via Manama at London Airport last Saturday, when he started complaining about the service, attempted to enter the flight deck (EDITOR: Never a good move since 9/11) and refused to return to his £2,700 (BD1598) First-Class seat.
British police called to the scene reputedly threatened the Sheikh with 50,000 volt Tazers, before arresting him for being drunk and disorderly and taking him to the airport’s police station where he was DNA’d, and had his photograph and fingerprints taken.
The Sheikh was later released on bail and will have to appear in court in London in September.
The Sheikh appears to have lost control at 10.00 am in the morning, so on the subjects of alchohol and Ramadan he is no doubt now in deep discussions with his spiritual advisers. Further detail in the Sun