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Barcelona, Man City drop club crypto sponsors amid concerns

November 19, 2021 GMT

LONDON (AP) — Concerns about two cryptocurrency companies led to two of Europe’s leading soccer clubs, Barcelona and Manchester City, dropping short-lived sponsorship agreements on Friday.

Premier League champion City suspended a deal with 3Key Technologies after concerns were highlighted about the limited digital footprint of the company and its executives.

Barcelona canceled a deal with Ownix after a businessman linked to the company was arrested for fraud related to cryptocurrency.

Moshe Hogeg was identified by Israeli media as being among eight suspects detained, although police did not identify the high-tech entrepreneur and the owner of capital-based team Beitar Jerusalem. Hogeg’s lawyers, who could not be reached for comment, were quoted as denying the allegations.

Ownix announced on Nov. 5 that it was partnering with Barcelona to launch non-fungible tokens, or NFTs, that would be bought using the digital currency known as Ethereum. The NFTs would have allowed people to buy digital certificates of authenticity of virtual items linked to the team’s history.

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“In light of information received today that goes against the club’s values,” the Catalan club said Friday, “FC Barcelona hereby communicate the cancellation of the contract to create and market NFT digital assets with Ownix with immediate effect.”

Hogeg is a well-known figure in Israel after buying Beitar in 2018.

What was less clear this week is who the officials are behind 3Key, which City announced as a sponsor a week ago. City had said the company would become an “official regional partner” in “decentralized finance trading analysis and advisory technology” without saying which region it was from.

The Times of London reported this week that founder Oliver Chen said 3Key was “in a start-up phase” ahead of a product launch in the coming months. Their company statement listed company executives without an obvious online presence.

“Prompted by the club’s interactions with 3Key Technologies in recent days,” City said in a statement Friday, “Manchester City is now conducting further enquiries regarding 3Key Technologies and the partnership has been suspended pending satisfactory resolution to all of those enquiries.

City said that its sponsorship had “not been activated in respect of any specific products or services in any part of the world.” While City said it “conducts due diligence in respect of all of its partnerships,” it was unclear how rigorous that was given the queries prompted by media searching the internet for details on company staff.

Author Martin Calladine had highlighted on Twitter that “unusually for a partner of a huge football club, the company’s website carried no contact details, registered office or company number. Its digital channels were only a few months old and its named staff have zero digital footprint.”

The contact form on the 3Key website was not working on Friday.

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Joseph Krauss in Jerusalem contributed to this report.

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