The takeover of Charlton Athletic, which was announced with great optimism in January after years of supporters’ protests against the previous owner Roland Duchâtelet, has descended into chaos with the main promised investor announcing he has now pulled out, and a furious public disagreement between the new owners.
Tahnoon Nimer, a business administrator based in Abu Dhabi, was announced in January as the takeover’s principal financier and main shareholder in the company vehicle, East Street Investments, alongside Matt Southall, a former football agent, and Jonathan Heller, a consultant. Yet despite having announced the takeover on 2 January and promised “resources to the football side in order to bring in new players”, the takeover has still not been approved by the EFL, and no new players were signed on permanent contracts in January.
The EFL has not been satisfied about the “source and sufficiency” of the funding to buy and run the club, according to its rules governing the approval of new ownership, in more than two months since the takeover was announced. Duchâtelet, the Belgian businessman who bought Charlton in 2014 as part of a multi-club ownership group which then included Standard Liège, still has a mortgage over the Valley and Charlton’s training ground. The takeover deal is understood to have included an obligation for East Street Investments to buy the club’s properties outright from Duchâtelet after six months.
Late on Monday night, after disagreements between the partners throughout the day, Nimer said in an Instagram post: “I announce that I withdraw the club’s purchase,” alleging that “the club and its financial resources were exploited in a wrong and immoral manner.” In messages to a supporter, Nimer claimed that money he had put into the club had been used by Southall, who became the club’s executive chairman after the takeover, to fund his lifestyle, including the acquisition of expensive club Range Rovers. Nimer later deleted the Instagram posts.
In response the club released a statement from Southall, rejecting Nimer’s allegations as “malicious falsehoolds”, and claiming that Nimer himself has put no money into the club: “To date, not a single penny of the promised funds has been provided,” it said. Referring to an allegation that “disadvantageous contracts” had been authorised, Southall said he assumed that was the new deal for manager Lee Bowyer agreed in January, “as that is the only major contract signed in my time as executive chairman”.
Revealing the failure of East Street Investments to have its takeover approved by the EFL, Southall said Nimer had yet to satisfy the EFL as to the source of the promised investment. The EFL does not generally comment on its takeover approval processes, but the Guardian understands that the Charlton deal has indeed not yet been approved due to unanswered questions about the source of the funding. That meant that in effect Charlton were subject to transfer restrictions in January. Southall said in his statement that he “liaised closely” with the EFL about every proposed signing, and ultimately no permanent deals were done.
Bowyer’s team lost at home to Middlesbrough on Saturday and are currently third from bottom in the Championship, two points below Hull, whom they play in a potentially crucial relegation decider this Saturday.
“The board and senior management team are determined that Charlton Athletic be run in a sensible, responsible and sustainable manner but this is being made very difficult by the majority shareholder’s actions and his failure to provide either the necessary satisfaction to the EFL or the funds that he has consistently promised to invest,” Southall’s statement said. “To date, not a single penny of the promised funds has been provided.”
A representative of Southall’s rejected the allegation that he was living extravagantly on the club’s expense, saying that the Range Rover is leased by the club. Southall is understood to have a salary of approximately £200,000 as the full-time Charlton executive chairman, and to have been provided with the use of a two bedroom apartment in central London, as he lives in the Manchester area. Previously an agent, Southall had started up a number of companies involved in different football-related ventures, before working on the takeover with Nimer and Heller last year.
On the website of a company, Abu Dhabi Business Development of which he is the chairman, Nimer is described as chairman of the private office of His Highness Sheikh Saeed Bin Tahnoon Al Nahyan, a member of the Abu Dhabi ruling family. Nimer’s biography states that having obtained “several degrees in business administration and communication in the US as well as graduating from universities of several other countries,” Nimer oversees the running of “circa 60 companies” in the private office and has “fostered strategic alliances” with companies involved in the region’s economic development.
Southall is understood to have spoken to Charlton staff at the Valley on Tuesday morning, to reassure them that the club is still running normally and is financially stable. In the most recent accounts, under Duchâtelet’s ownership in 2017-18, Charlton made a £10m loss on a turnover of £7m. Duchâtelet became intensely unpopular among supporters who believed that model failed the club, particularly after Charlton were relegated to League One in 2016. Under Bowyer, the club won promotion with a victory over Sunderland in the play-off final in May, and following the takeover, better times appeared to beckon, but now uncertainty rules at the Valley again.
Nimer released a statement on Instagram on Tuesday morning, saying that he was staying on as a director, blaming Southall for the failure to have the takeover approved by the EFL, and stating that he has instructed lawyers to “shortly take the necessary measures” to remove Southall from the club. Charlton released a further statement from Southall saying that the club had accepted Nimer’s resignation as a director “with immediate effect”.