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.
BURMA: In my very first post on 1st January 2011 I wrote about women’s rights and how by depriving women of the opportunity to play their full role in society, we waste 50% of the earth’s human resources.
Two of the women in oppressive situations that I highlighted then were Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese pro-democracy leader who was held under house arrest, on and off, for almost 24 years until her release on 13th November 2010, and Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani who was sentenced to death by stoning in Iran, despite the fact that her husband was already dead at the time of the supposed “offence”.
It is with some pleasure then to note that Aung San Suu Kyi is now free to travel, that she and her followers have won some seats in the Burmese parliament, that Burmese leaders after years of isolation are now communicating with the world (though probably through self interest), and that Aung San Suu Kyi has today arrived for a visit to the UK.
This is her first visit to Europe since 1988, although she was married to an Englishman, Michael Aris, a Tibetan scholar, who died of cancer in 1999. Fearful that the Burmese authorities would not allow her to return if she went to her husband’s bedside, she made the painful decision to stick by her people and remain in Burma.
Aung San Suu Kyi also has 2 sons based and born in the UK and during her UK visit she will make a visit to Oxford where they all lived for a number of years. Today, Tuesday, is her 67th birthday.
She is expected to receive an honorary degree from the university while in Oxford, meet Prince Charles and his wife Camilla on Thursday and address both houses of the British Parliament, as well as meeting David Cameron the Prime Minister. She spoke in Ireland at the weekend, HERE:
Last Saturday Aung San Suu Kyi addressed the Nobel Committee in Norway and received the Nobel Peace Prize which they awarded her 20 years ago. She said she heard about it on the radio at the time, while under house arrest, and it helped reconnect her with the wider world. You can read more about her life, HERE:
So sometimes the world does get a little better it seems, despite all the pain, persecution, killing and torture.
IRAN: Of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, the Iranian lady sentenced to death by stoning, there is no word as far as I can trace.
In January 2012 the Iranian parliament changed the law on “adultery” to death by hanging, but that is effectively no improvement on a punishment that seems to be reserved for women and remains cruel, inhuman and unjust.
Sakineh Ashtiani, may still be alive in prison, but it would not surprise me to learn that she has been quietly and secretly executed.
EGYPT: The 2011 “revolution” in Egypt that brought down it’s long time president and dictator, Hosni Mubarak, looks as though it may have stalled.
Despite reaching the point of parliamentary elections, a “Supreme Constitutional Court” (odd when the country still does not have a constitution) declared last week that the legislative polls last year were unconstitutional because party members were allowed to contest seats in the lower house reserved for independents.
This has led the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (Scarf), which had controlled the country since Mubarak fell, still in complete power.
So everyone is wondering if anything has changed.
The question gains more stringency when you discover that of the 2 remaining candidates in last week’s presidential election run-off, one is a former army officer and prime minister under Mubarak, Ahmed Shafiq, and the other is the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, a group of whom the army are terrified.
Following the ruling by the constitutional court on the parliamentary elections, Scarf, dissolved parliament and prevented MPs from entering, and yesterday gave itself sweeping powers over legislation, the national budget and over who writes a new constitution, effectively removing power from any new president.
The Brotherhood’s presidential candidate Mohammed Mursi is believed to be slightly ahead in the polling but the results will not be declared until Thursday.
The former presidential candidate Hamdeen Sabahi, who was 3rd in the first round of voting, said the declaration was a “seizure of the future of Egypt”.
So far the street revolutionaries, many of whom supported Sabahi, have been restrained.
However, if Thursday’s result is suspected of being gerrymandered in favour of the ruling army council, who seem to have guaranteed themselves jobs for life and have huge and lucrative business interests all over Egypt, then the revolution in Egypt may just have to take place all over again.
Whether the people have enough energy or stomach for that remains to be seen.
FATHER AND 4 YEAR OLD SON BLASTED BY POLICE BIRDSHOT WHILE SITTING IN THE STREET:
BAHRAIN’S PATHETIC LEGAL SYSTEM TOO AFRAID OF LOSING FACE TO ACQUIT ALL MEDICS ON ALL CHARGES:
BIASED JUDICIARY CONTINUES TO PLAY GAMES WITH VICTIMS OF LAWS PREVENTING SELF-EXPRESSION:
FURTHER RESTRICTIONS ON THE UNIVERSAL RIGHT OF SELF EXPRESSION VIA SOCIAL MEDIA ON THE WAY:
In a week that has seen a 11 year old released after more than 1 month in detention, more children arrested, some in the middle of the night, and now yesterday a small child serously injured with birdshot, Bahrain’s Opposition Tweeters can be forgiven for asking on Twitter whether the Al Khalifa Government has “run out of grown-ups to arrest and shoot?”.
Ali Hassan, the 11 year old (sometimes reported as 12) was released on bail on Monday this week after being initially imprisoned and then held in a juvenile detention centre.
While in detention the six grade student was forced to take his exams while behind bars, not the most conducive environment for clear thinking and exam preparation. All Ali wanted to do was to go home and be with his Mum.
Ali is still charged with “illegal gathering” and “rioting” and accused of trying to block the street against entry by police into his village, and will have to return to court on 20th June.
The youngster says he was just playing in the street with 2 friends when they were chased by plaincloths police. When Ali fell over while trying to escape, he was taken away and unecessarily incarcerated. You can hear his own testimony in this Al Jazeera interview, HERE:
As Ahlam Oun points out an “illegal gathering” is a meeting together of 5 people or more, which would of course make many family meetings “against the law”.
In her blog post Ahlam suggests that this has become the authorities “quick-fix” to neutralise anyone they don’t like, but conversely they fail to prosecute anyone who supports them when the Al Fateh movement for example hold an unlicensed rally. You can read Ahlam’s blog, HERE:
There have also been numerous reports of villages being raided this week by police in the middle of the night, especially between the hours of 1.30 and 4.30 am.
The raids seem systematic and deliberate, one by one targeting in the last 7 days the villages of Salmabad, Daih, Jidhafs, Al Musala, Aali, Sanabis, Sitra, Buri, Muharraq, Duraz, Bilad Al Qadeem and many more and arresting people while they are still half asleep.
The raids are often noisy, aggressive and violent. The usual “tactful” approach, and almost always without a warrant to arrest, can be seen in this daylight video of a group of imcompetent “Keystone Kops” attempting to break down a door, HERE:
Ali Ashoor, shown here, is 16 years old and has been detained since January 5th. He is currently the youngest prisoner in Jaw prison.
Yesterday Hassan AlSamea, 12 years old, was dragged away from his mother and arrested despite her attempts to prevent it.
The despondent face of Hassan’s Mother and those of the smirking female police officers having succeeded in their task, say it all.
You can see the “battle for Hassan’s freedom”, HERE:
FATHER AND 4 YEAR OLD SON BLASTED BY POLICE BIRDSHOT WHILE SITTING IN THE STREET
Worst of all this week is the shooting of a 4 year old child (earlier reported as 5 years old.
EDITOR: Can someone tell me why there are always problems in Bahrain getting ages right?)
Ahmed Naham was sitting in the street with his Father who was selling fish, as photographic evidence confirms.
Mr. Naham says the police coming down the street told them to “go away” but as he prepared to pick up his child, a policeman opened fire. The 4 year old now has 2 pellets in his left eye and more in other parts of his body. The father has pellets in his thigh, stomach and arms. Video on the Internet shows police carrying the boy away, closely followed by his father, HERE:
After arriving at the Salmaniya Medical complex, police and security service personnel prevented people and some members of the family from speaking to the father or seeing the little boy.
He is now undergoing treatment, HERE:
EDITOR: It seems very evident to me that this is a new tactic – target children and indirectly intimidate their parents in the hope that they will keep their offspring away from protests. Fat chance – far too late for that! Sumood.
BAHRAIN’S PATHETIC LEGAL SYSTEM TOO AFRAID OF LOSING FACE TO ACQUIT ALL MEDICS ON ALL CHARGES:
But of course, the persecution of adults in the Shia community in Bahrain does not stop either. This morning,Thursday, while nine of the medics who have been on trial for over a year in military and civil courts, were acquitted of all charges, nine others were convicted.
Those acquitted following a series of internationally condemned and farcical trials were Zahra AlSammak, Hassan AlTublani,
Fatima Haji, Nada Dhaif, Ahmed Omran, Rola AlSaffar, Najah Khalil, Mohammed AlShehab and Sayed Marhoon.
However, the following were found guilty, albeit with reduced sentences, Ali AlEkri (5 years), Ghassan Dhaif (1 year), Mahmood Asghar (6 months), Bassem Dhaif (1 month), Ebrahim AlDemistani (3 years), (Nader Diwani and Abdulkhaliq AlOraibi (both 1 month), Dhiaa AbuIdrees (2 months) and Saeed AlSamaheeji (1 year).
Two other medics did not appear in court to appeal their 15 year sentences, having either gone abroad or underground in Bahrain.
The court threw out some of the most serious charges such as “occupying the Salmaniya hospital” and “possessing weapons”, piles of which, including chains, a sword and an AK 47, were brought into court at a previous hearing.
“This is an unjust ruling,” Twefik Dhaif, the uncle of two of the convicted medics said.
“These are the elite doctors in this country. We have 15 doctors in my family, and most of the people they have treated were Al Khalifas,” referring to Bahrain’s controlling family. You can read Al Jazeera’s report, HERE:
Clearly this has nothing to do with justice. Everyone knows that all the medics did was help treat the injuries of protesters in very difficult circumstances.
Reducing sentences and freeing some is the best the Bahrain Government and judicial system can come up with in the face of continued international criticism and in an a pathetic attempt to save face. And it is not enough.
Donna McKay, the executive director of Physicians for Human Rights, said after the verdict, “It is a travesty of justice that the trials continued and that the medics are now sentenced to jail time”.
Dr. Nada Dhaif, the only one of the doctors on trial allowed to travel, spoke at a demonstration in Dublin on 12rh June, HERE: supported by other speakers such Jamila Hanan (aka Frankie Dolan), HERE: Respect to you both for your clear statements.
One of the nurses’ story, published at Philly.com, is very telling too.
INCOMPETENT JUDICIARY CONTINUES TO PLAY GAMES WITH VICTIMS OF LAWS PREVENTING SELF-EXPRESSION:
And the injustice continues. Nabeel Rajab, the President of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights was due in court again this week but was remanded in prison again, without a court visit, until 18th June. He is also due in court on 19th May on another charge, but no-one will be surprised if that hearing is delayed also.
All part of the not-so-sophisticated sadistic mental torture practiced by the Al Khalifa Government.
Ahmed Aoun, an imprisoned 17 year old student, who had a police shotgun pellet embedded in his right eye, was denied an operation at the end of May, but now 2 weeks later the surgery has been carried out. The delay may have cost him his sight.
He was originally arrested while receiving treatment at a private hospital for his injuries which were sustained while supporting a peaceful demonstration.
Now comes news that Sayed Hadi Al Musawi, a former Opposition MP who recently gave testimony at the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva during Bahrain’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) on human rights, has been called for questioning today at the Public Prosecutor’s office following a complaint by the Ministry of Interior.
At the time of the UPR hearing local loyalist media in Bahrain referred to the participants as “traitors” and they were threatened with prosectuion by the Minister of Interior himself.
The Bahrain Justice and Development Movement, who also attended the UPR session, said “Regardless of whether this relates to Sayed Hadi’s involvement in the UPR there is no justification for the call for investigation. Sayed Hadi is an opposition activist and human rights defender who has always worked within the framework of the law.
This is is another attempt to try to silence the opposition and does not constitute a serious attempt by the authorities to take the country out of the current crisis.” There is further information, HERE:
FURTHER RESTRICTIONS ON THE UNIVERSAL RIGHT OF SELF EXPRESSION VIA SOCIAL MEDIA ON THE WAY:
In addition to all that the likely direction of further arrests and prosecutions is indicated by a statement reported in the press by the recently appointed Minister of State for Information Affairs, Samira Rajab.
Samira Rajab, a past supporter of dictator Sadam Hussein apparently, said that Bahrain is set to introduce tough new laws to combat the “misuse” of social media.
Claiming that action was necessary to “guarantee the security of the state”, the minister said, “We have a right to punish those who indulge in seditious behaviour and create disunity among the people.
We have to think of how to protect our national security. We have these new threats and we have to see how we can tackle those threats”.
Speaking at a conference organised by the Bahrain Centre for Strategic and International Studies and Energy, she asserted that “social media had been and continues to be abused by the so-called human rights activists”, citing claims “that drowning victims had been killed by torture” and that “sickel cell victims” had been killed by security forces.
(EDITOR: Though independent examination of victims in both those cases has indicated that the victims had been severely tortured before death.) The full report on the minister’s speech is HERE:
Compounding the Al Khalifa Government’s inane and immature ability to understand the rights of individuals to self-expression in the modern world, the King, King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa held a meeting at the Bahrain Defence Force (BDF) Command Headquarters.
Also present at the family gathering were Commander-in-Chief Field Marshal Shaikh Khalifa bin Ahmed Al Khalifa, State Minister for Defence Affairs Lieutenant General Dr. Shaikh Mohammed bin Abdullah Al Khalifa and BDF Chief of Staff Major General Shaikh Daij bin Salman Al Khalifa.
In his speech to the officers present, the King said yesterday, “Our armed forces are the protectors of the nation’s achievements and everybody must know that whoever disrespects the forces or its leaders is in fact abusing us”.
We cannot tolerate,” the King continued, “Any irreverence of our beliefs, social values and armed forces in the name of freedom of expression. All competent executive agencies have to take the necessary measures to address these violations in accordance with the law”. (You can read the full report, HERE: )
TRANSLATION: “Criticise the armed forces, police or security forces and we will take that personnally and make up new laws to prosecute you for defamation”. For the oppressed in Bahrain it does not get any easier.