Thu, Oct 29, 2009 - Page 18 News List

Moni Fanan may have lost millions before death

AP , JERUSALEM

When the popular former team manager of Israel’s most famous basketball club killed himself last week, it seemed like a sad tale of a heartbroken man who couldn’t adjust to life after sports. Now it appears there’s more to the story.

Authorities suspect Moni Fanan was running a multimillion-dollar investment scheme for some of Israel’s top sports figures and that he was deep in debt. The scandal has overshadowed this week’s opening of Israel’s basketball season and tarnished Maccabi Tel Aviv, the most successful sports team in the country’s history.

Huge losses, estimated at more than US$20 million, are now believed to have driven Fanan to hang himself in his Tel Aviv apartment last week.

Top players are believed to have lost millions of dollars in shady investments, tax authorities have raided Maccabi’s offices and there are even suspicions that referees in charge of Maccabi games had invested with Fanan.

Maccabi spokesman Nitzan Ferraro denied any wrongdoing inside the club and said team officials were cooperating with the authorities.

Maccabi has dominated Israeli basketball for decades, winning 38 of the past 40 league titles. Its budget dwarfs that of all its competitors and it has grown into a European powerhouse. Last week, Maccabi toured the US for a series of exhibition games against NBA teams.

For years, Fanan was the face of Maccabi to the Israeli public, holding a position that ranged from bench coach to logistics manager to chief troubleshooter for his players. During his 16-year tenure, the team won 15 league titles and three European championships. His son, Regev, was a backup player on the team for five years.

Fanan was particularly popular with the team’s dozens of foreign players, many of whom went on to play in the NBA. But last year, he was forced to step down and give up his small stake in the team after a mysterious falling out with other team executives.

Since Fanan’s death, Israeli newspapers have reported that he ran a private banking network in which he invested large sums of money for his players, opposing coaches and league referees, promising double-digit returns.

The Israeli media have given the story nonstop coverage, saying Fanan’s murky financial dealings were well known among team officials. Most of the reports have cited players speaking anonymously, since many were invested with Fanan and could be charged with tax evasion.

One former player, Doron Jamchi, broke the wall of silence, telling Israel’s Channel 2 TV that “everyone on the team knew.”

Israeli newspapers have linked Fanan to Nick Levene, a Jewish derivatives trader in Britain who declared bankruptcy earlier this month and whose assets have been frozen by the High Court, British insolvency records show.

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