Hertha Berlin investor in trouble over alleged manipulation

BERLIN (AP) — Three games without defeat and a welcome lack of off-field scandal had finally brought some relative peace to Hertha Berlin.

Monday is a holiday for German Unity Day to celebrate East and West Germany’s reunification and Hertha had organized an event to celebrate club president Kay Bernstein’s 100 days in office for the next day.

Continuing the theme of unity, Bernstein was to be accompanied by managing director Fredi Bobic, executive board member Thomas E. Herrich, and the investor Lars Windhorst. Windhorst has pumped 374 million euros into the club since 2019 and said he’d be willing to contribute more if needed.

After years of turmoil at Hertha, it seemed like a fresh start.

But Tuesday’s event has been called off and all signs of unity between investor and club were dashed at the weekend following the publication of an article by the Financial Times alleging that Windhorst secretly hired an Israeli intelligence agency to try and force the previous Hertha president Werner Gegenbauer out.

The Financial Times cited documents from a district court in Tel Aviv and said they show that Windhorst hired the company to mount a harassment campaign against Gegenbauer, who had been Hertha president for 14 years and was due to remain in the position till 2024.

Gegenbauer and Windhorst had publicly sparred, with the latter accusing his rival last March of using tricks to stay in power. Windhorst called on Gegenbauer to go.

Gegenbauer stepped down on May 24 – a day after Hertha clinched Bundesliga survival with a nervy playoff win over second-division club Hamburger SV.

The next day Gegenbauer told the local Tagesspiegel newspaper that Windhorst had “set the club on fire” as it was fighting relegation and that the investor was “responsible for a division that has unsettled the club and all departments.”

The Financial Times said both Windhorst and the chief executive of the Israeli agency denied knowledge of any campaign to oust Gegenbauer, who it had failed to reach for comment. The newspaper said the agency was seeking outstanding payments when it brought the case to court.

On Friday, Hertha said it was seeking legal advice on the matter and it called on Windhorst to make a “detailed statement” on the case through his Tennor holding company, which was reportedly cited in the Tel Aviv court documents.

Kicker magazine reported that club management sent a letter to Windhorst asking him to explain himself in the matter by affidavit by Monday – German Unity Day.

Tennor spokesman Andreas Fritzenkötter referred to the Financial Times report as “complete nonsense.”

Meanwhile, news agency DPA reported that a spokeswoman for the Tel Aviv district court confirmed that the detective agency named Schibumi had filed a lawsuit against Windhorst and Tennor Services Suisse AG for almost 5 million euros ($4.9 million) on Sept. 6, but that the case was withdrawn on Thursday.

Windhorst addressed Hertha fans in a Facebook post on Saturday in which he said the Financial Times report is “nonsense. If you looked at the situation at the time logically, it wouldn’t have made any sense at all.”

Windhorst referred to the “critical overall situation at Hertha at the time and ever-increasing criticism of the club’s management among the members,” and suggested “it wouldn’t have required support from a foreign agency, especially not at the absurd fee mentioned in the article.”

Windhorst criticized the club’s current management for postponing Tuesday’s media event and for asking lawyers to investigate the matter.

“It is extremely regrettable that no attempt was made to clarify open questions with an internal discussion together. Instead, as before, there are leaks and indiscretions to the press,” Windhorst wrote. “There was no opportunity to answer the question, asked in the letter, internally at the club. All of this has nothing to do with a new beginning and respect.”

Hertha supporters answered on Sunday, when the team drew with Hoffenheim 1-1, extending its unbeaten run. The fans held banners saying, “Dirty campaigns, detectives and millions won’t end it – Hertha BSC remains firmly in our hands.”


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Ciarán Fahey, The Associated Press