Chechen tycoon in line for stake in Israeli football team

Tel Aviv, June 6 (IANS/RIA Novosti) A Chechen businessman is to become an unlikely part-owner of one of Israel's biggest and most stridently nationalist football teams, the current majority owner said.

Taking a 25 percent stake in Beitar Jerusalem will be the latest twist in the unlikely career of Tamir Medzhidov, who has gone from serving as an Israeli border guard to overseeing a Chechnya-centred business empire.

In January, he reportedly played a key role in arranging a friendly match between Beitar and Chechen team Terek Grozny that made the Israeli club one of the few foreign teams willing to travel to the troubled region.

Soon after, Beitar loaned two Chechen players from Terek, a deal that led to racist chants from Beitar's staunchly nationalist supporters and an alleged arson attack on the team. The team has never signed an Arab player, rare in Israeli football.

"In my view, the proposal from Mr. Medzhidov is more preferable for Beitar," current owner Arcadi Gaydamak said, comparing Medzhidov's bid to what he said was a less attractive offer from Israeli businessman Eli Tabib.

"Under the terms of the agreement, I will transfer half of my stake in Beitar. The deal has no cost. I'll just transfer it for free."

Medzhidov has promised to cover half of Beitar's $5 million-a-year losses, Gaydamak said.

Little information is available about Medzhidov, who is said to be an ethnic Chechen in his early 30s who holds Israeli and Russian citizenship.

Gaydamak is no stranger to controversy. Last year, charges against him of money laundering in Israel were dropped under a plea deal, and he was acquitted in France in 2009 of arms dealing charges related to the Angolan Civil War.

He has also made forays into Israeli politics as head of the Social Justice Party and ran unsuccessfully for mayor of Jerusalem in 2008. His son Alexandre was the owner of English football team Portsmouth between 2006 and 2009.

--IANS/RIA Novosti

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