Former Maccabi Tel Aviv basketball club manager Moni Fanan (pictured above) committed suicide last week. It now appears that Fanan checked himself out just as the proverbial "other shoe" was set to drop. USA Today reports:
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 the opening of Israel's basketball season this week and tarnished Maccabi Tel Aviv, the most successful team in the country's history.
Huge losses, estimated at more than $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. "We have nothing to hide," he said.
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 U.S. 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 for five years.
Fanan was particularly popular with the team's dozens of foreign players, some 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 Maccabi, after a 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 in return for promises of 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 for their earnings.
One former player, Doron Jamchi, broke the wall of silence over the weekend when he told Israel's Channel 2 TV that "everyone on the team knew."
Israeli tax authorities this week raided Maccabi's main office, confiscating boxes of documents. The team's former coach, Tzvika Sherf, and two ex-stars, Nadav Henefeld and Oded Katash, have been questioned. Tax Authority spokeswoman Idit Lev-Zerehia confirmed the agency is looking into possible tax evasion and money laundering.
Maccabi Tel Aviv is, far and away, the most successful professional basketball club in Israel. As of late, they've battled Olympiakos Greece for superiority in Euro League basketball. They've also been known to pay players better than any other Euro League team. Perhaps not surprisingly, they've become a destination for American players who head overseas (it also doesn't hurt that English is widely spoken in Israel--American players don't experience as much of a culture clash in Israel as they do in many European countries).
Recently, Maccabi Tel Aviv returned from a trip to the United States in which they played exhibition games against several NBA teams. Maccabi made news while playing the Knicks in Madison Square Garden when head coach Pini Gershon got ejected from the game after being called for his second technical foul. Gershon refused to leave the sidelines, despite his ejection. His antics caused play to be delayed for nearly ten minutes. Even more bizarrely, a rabbi ran on to the court and attempted to persuade the referees to allow Gershon continue coaching (pictured below).
In 2005 (October 15, 2005), Maccabi Tel Aviv made news for beating the NBA's Toronto Raptors.