Gaydamak threatens to pull plug on Beitar

January 16, 2008

JERUSALEM, Jan 16 (Reuters) - Beitar Jerusalem owner Arkady Gaydamak has threatened to stop bankrolling the club if its supporters are found to be behind the torching of the offices of the Israeli FA.

Vandals broke into the Israel Football Association's headquarters in Tel Aviv in the early hours of Wednesday, setting fire to the entrance lobby and scrawling threatening graffiti against IFA officials on the walls. Nobody was hurt.

The graffiti appeared to link the attackers to Israeli champions Beitar.

"If it is proven that Beitar supporters were responsible for the action and it is done again, I will withdraw as the financial supporter of Beitar," Russian-born billionaire owner Gaydamak told reporters.

A police spokesman said the fire was started deliberately. "We can confirm it was started by arsonists ... We are still looking into who was behind it," spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said.

Ori Shilo, chief executive of the IFA, described the vandalism as "an act of barbarism". He said he hoped security cameras would reveal the identity of the vandals.

Shilo said the attackers threw a petrol bomb but that it caused only superficial damage to the IFA's entrance lobby at the National Stadium in Tel Aviv.

One graffiti message said "Luzon must die", referring to IFA Chairman Avi Luzon. Another spray-painted message read: "We will harm whoever harms Beitar."

Luzon was targeted by Beitar fans after the club was punished by an IFA court and played a league fixture behind closed doors on Saturday. The punishment was dealt because fans chanted racist abuse in a match earlier this season.

Gaydamak stood alone in the stands during Saturday's match and waved a large, yellow Beitar flag. His voice was clearly audible in the empty stadium and TV microphones picked up his severe criticism of the IFA and Luzon for the punishment.

Gaydamak bought Beitar in August 2005 in a move likened in Israel to Roman Abramovich's purchase of English giants Chelsea a year earlier. He invested heavily to make them by far Israel's richest club.

Gaydamak threatened to pull his support for Beitar in 2006, but he soon backed down. His son, Alexandre, is the chairman of English Premier League outfit Portsmouth.