Windhorst to cut ties with Berlin football club after spy scandal

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Lars Windhorst has announced that he will terminate his involvement with Hertha BSC Berlin football club, following revelations that the German financier allegedly hired corporate spies to try to force out the club’s president.

Windhorst, whose investment company Tennor Holding owns a majority stake in the club, has been battling a storm of criticism after the Financial Times reported last week that he allegedly enlisted an Israeli private intelligence company to orchestrate a clandestine campaign against Werner Gegenbauer, who stepped down in May after 14 years in charge.

Windhorst dismissed the story as “nonsense” but Hertha subsequently announced it had hired a law firm to investigate the allegations, further straining relations between the financier and the club’s senior leadership.

On Wednesday, Windhorst announced he would sever ties with the club, which Tennor has poured €374mn into after first acquiring a stake in 2019.

“After careful consideration and evaluation of the last three months, we unfortunately conclude that there will be no basis and no perspective for a successful economic co-operation between Tennor Group and Hertha BSC,” Windhorst wrote on his Facebook page, adding that Tennor was “terminating” its involvement with the football club and offering to sell back its 64.7 per cent stake at its original purchase price.

Tennor confirmed the statement. The club did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In the 2020-21 season, Hertha made a €78mn loss, with costs of €183mn compared to €105mn in revenue and by June 2021, it had €99.6mn of debt. This summer, it narrowly avoided relegation to Germany’s second tier.

The FT revealed last week that Tel Aviv-based Shibumi Strategy Limited had claimed to orchestrate a year-long covert operation to push Gegenbauer out of the club.

Shibumi claimed that Gegenbauer’s decision to leave was evidence that “the project was successfully accomplished”. The firm then sued Windhorst in an Israeli court, alleging that a unit of Tennor had breached a contract under which it owed Shibumi €1mn for eight months’ work, as well as a €4mn success fee allegedly agreed verbally.

At a match on Sunday, some Hertha fans had signs and placards demanding Windhorst’s removal, with one banner reading: “smear campaigns, detectives and millions will not end it. Hertha BSC remains firmly in our hands”.

In contrast with elsewhere in Europe, Germany’s Bundesliga gives fans a significant say in the running of clubs. While Tennor has a majority stake in Hertha’s commercial arm, in general meetings, where decisions like the club president are made, it has only a single vote.

Shibumi’s lawsuit against Tennor and Windhorst was withdrawn shortly after last week’s news report. Shibumi’s chief executive Ori Gur-Ari previously told the FT that his firm did “not know anything about this alleged case”.

German news outlet Der Spiegel reported on Wednesday that people identified in the lawsuit as having been approached by Shibumi confirmed they had been contacted. It also described the plot against Gegenbauer as a “scandal that is unparalleled in the history of the Bundesliga”.

Source: Financial Times

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