SALIM Mehajer has allegedly left a western Sydney rugby league club on the brink of collapse after reneging on a six-figure sponsorship arrangement.
The Auburn Warriors, which has fostered NRL players such as Omar Slaimankhel, Matt Utai and Heka Nanai, struck a major deal with the controversial property developer worth $100,000 - but, according to the club, it remains unpaid.
Warriors president Fedi Sleiman said Mr Mehajer agreed to pay the six-figure sum in return for having his company, Mehajer Brothers, represented on Warriors jerseys and signage at the club's home ground, the Lidcombe Oval.
Mr Sleiman said the club upheld its part of the deal, but the 31-year-old former Auburn mayor, who is currently behind bars, did not pay a cent. Mr Sleiman told news.com.au he is now in talks with solicitors and considering legal action.
There was no written contract signed on the deal, but the solicitors are looking through text messages and emails sent between the parties.
The club, which has a 65-year history, has played in the Sydney Shield and sent five players to represent Lebanon at the World Cup - playing against Australia and England. It has also made waves in the Ron Massey competition, most recently reaching the 2017 grand final.
According to Mr Sleiman, the controversial businessman swooned the club with an offer much higher than any other sponsorship bid it received.
"We had a few others sponsors interested at the time, but we couldn't commit to them because Salim's sponsorship offer was extremely higher, so we just went with him," he said.
"If you're running a football club which is competing in an elite competition like us, you need this kind of money to pay the players."
Despite the significant sums of money promised between the parties, the Warriors president said he only met Mr Mehajer once in that meeting. Mr Sleiman said he kept texting Mr Mehajer, but the property developer kept "avoiding" him and cancelling meetings.
"When I first met him it was all sweet, because he said he was doing if for the community and that's what we do it for here," he said.
"I've been doing this for the last 20 years and I don't get paid for it. I'm doing it all for free and the coach, who is running around all over the place, doesn't get a cent either.
"So you get excited when somebody like this comes through with big money, but when the money doesn't come through, you can't do anything about it."
Before the six-figure deal, the Warriors boss told news.com.au Mr Mehajer paid a promised sum of $13,000 for the 2016 season and saw no reason not to go with him again, this time for a $100,000 deal.
But, because the money has allegedly not materialised, it has resulted in $30,000 worth of outstanding payments to players from last year and the club is going to close.
"We just can't go on," Mr Sleiman said. "It's stressing everyone out.
"The players wanted to stay together. They are having fun playing together. But it can't go on and some of them are still left with no club to go to because it's too late and quite a few are out of pocket.
"We don't want to get a reputation as a club that doesn't pay its players so we'll have to call it a day."
He has been trying to pay the players the outstanding amounts out of his own pocket. He added that the club knocked back another potential sponsorship, worth $50,000, because of the agreement with Mr Mehajer.
Mr Sleiman tried to renegotiate the deal to allow Mr Mehajer to pay the outstanding fee over the course of two seasons in an attempt to recoup at least some of the money, but he had no luck.
Emails seen by news.com.au between Mr Mehajer and the club show how the property developer kept promising the agreed cash sum.
"Please Cosinder [sic] this as a formal emailto [sic] confirm that the sponsorship is still at foot," Mehajer wrote in August.
"Unfortunately, we have been audited and we are waiting for the ATO to release the funds.
"We are still willing to relpay [sic] release $100,000.00 subject to it being 100 per cent tax decidable [sic].
"I have mentioned that I will be such to the ATO but they did say that until the audit is over, no one is able to assist me- nor am I able to make a partial payment."
In another email, this time to a third party, Mr Mehajer writes: "I promised a young talented Rugby league Team that I will sponsor them for the amount of $100,000.00". However, he adds that the invoices he had received remain "un-paid".
Mr Mehajer is charged, along with five others, with perverting the course of justice and conspiracy to cheat and defraud in relation to a car crash in Lidcombe last October.
One of the club's talents Omar Slaimankhel, who was a star in the team's 2017 grand final campaign and a former member of NRL side the New Zealand Warriors, told Fairfax that many players remain out of pocket and without a club due to the sponsorship drama.
"It's very disappointing," he said.
"He had the best year for Auburn, he got the most exposure with us making the finals last year.
"He was our main sponsor. For him to do that, I don't know what he's going through, he's got his own issues."
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