After the espionage scandal, Windhorst cuts ties with the Berlin soccer club

Lars Windhorst has announced he will end his involvement with Berlin soccer club Hertha BSC after it was revealed that the German financier allegedly hired corporate spies to try to coerce the club’s president.

Windhorst, whose investment company Tennor Holding owns a majority stake in the club, has faced a storm of criticism after the Financial Times reported last week that he had allegedly recruited a private Israeli intelligence agency to conduct a secret campaign against the resigning Werner Gegenbauer orchestrate in May after 14 years at the top.

Windhorst dismissed the story as ‘nonsense’ but Hertha subsequently announced they had hired a law firm to investigate the allegations, further straining relations between the financier and the club’s top management.

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

“After careful examination and evaluation of the last three months, we unfortunately come to the conclusion that there will be no basis and no prospects for successful economic cooperation between the Tennor Group and Hertha BSC,” Windhorst wrote on his Facebook page, adding added that Tennor was “ending” his involvement with the football club and offering to sell back his 64.7 percent stake at the 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 loss of €78m, with costs of €183m compared to €105m in revenue and by June 2021 they were €99.6m in debt. This summer, relegation to the second German division only just succeeded.

The FT revealed last week that Tel Aviv-based Shibumi Strategy Limited had claimed to have organized a year-long covert operation to oust Gegenbauer from the club.

Shibumi claimed Gegenbauer’s decision to leave was proof that “the project was carried out successfully.” The company then sued Windhorst in an Israeli court, alleging that a unit of Tennor broke a contract by which it owed Shibumi €1 million for eight months of work and an allegedly verbally agreed success fee of €4 million.

At a game on Sunday, some Hertha fans put up signs and posters calling for Windhorst to be removed. A banner read: “Smear campaigns, investigators and millions will not end it. Hertha BSC remains firmly in our hands.”

Unlike elsewhere in Europe, the German Bundesliga gives fans a significant say in club governance. While Tennor holds a majority stake in Hertha’s commercial arm, it only has a single vote in general meetings where decisions such as club president are made.

Shibumi’s lawsuit against Tennor and Windhorst was dropped shortly after last week’s news report. Shibumi CEO Ori Gur-Ari previously told the FT that his company “didn’t know anything about this alleged case.”

German news agency Der Spiegel reported on Wednesday that individuals identified in the lawsuit as being approached by Shibumi confirmed that they had been contacted. It also described the conspiracy against Gegenbauer as a “scandal unparalleled in the history of the Bundesliga”.

https://www.ft.com/content/19df8cda-9017-4dcd-861d-59efeb380885 After the espionage scandal, Windhorst cuts ties with the Berlin soccer club

Adam Bradshaw

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