One of the most prestigious football clubs in Algeria is on the verge of collapse due to an unprecedented and severe financial crisis.
The owner of the defending champions USM Alger, the public works and media tycoon Ali Haddad, has been jailed since March.
He has already been sentenced for possessing of two Algerian passports (which is illegal) and for having large amounts of foreign currency in cash, he faces further charges of fraud and money laundering.
Haddad, along with other businessmen with close ties to Algeria’s ousted president Abdelaziz Bouteflika, have also had all their assets frozen.
It meant that the club could no longer pay players and staff and a strike earlier in October was only avoided when a wealthy fan of the club stepped in with a financial donation.
The financial situation also means that the club cannot be sold to a new owner leaving fans worried about the future of the club and calling for the authorities to step in and prevent the collapse of the club.
USMA almost missed out on qualifying for the group stage of this season’s African Champions League when there were doubts over whether they could travel to play Kenya’s Gor Mahia for the second leg on their qualifying tie.
The game went ahead with USMA winning 2-0 to complete a 6-1 aggregate win, they now face South Africa’s Mamelodi Sundowns, Wydad Casablanca of Morocco and Angola’s Petro Atletico in Group C of the Champions League.
One solution that has been offered by the minister of sports, Raouf Salim Bernaoui, at a recent meeting with the club’s management is for a take over by a state company.
It has been suggested that the state’s public works company COSIDER could be interested in the offer and would offset the huge debts the club has accumulated in recent times.
In a further blow to USMA the national league have ruled that the club should forfeit a match they refused to play against local rivals Mouloudia Algers as well as deducting a further three points as a punishment.
USMA’s financial problems were also added to with a fine of US $8,000 for refusing to play top-fight game rivals Mouloudia Algers claiming that international call-ups left them under strength for the match.
The sanction leaves USMA in 12th place in the sixteen-team league with just seven points from six matches.
The club was founded in 1937 in the Soustara district of the Algerian capital Algiers, but draws support from all over the city and across the country.
They have won eight league titles and the FA Cup twice since the Algerian national football competitions started in 1962.
Last season’s silverware was the third for the club since 2010 when Haddad became the club’s owner with the ambition to dominate local football and later expand to the African competitions.
Under his leadership USMA had an annual budget reported to be between 8 and 10 million US Dollars, which allowed the club to pay attractive salaries and thus hire the best players in the country.
The 54-year-old was arrested at the end of March while trying to flee the country across the Tunisian border.
The judicial authorities have decided to freeze assets and bank accounts of the Haddad family pending further investigations, that includes the company that owns 92% in USMA.
Additional reporting BBC