Arcady Gaydamak, The Israeli Connection and PFC.
This article first appeared on Pompey online in November 2010. Since then, on 29th April 2011 Le Monde reported that Arcady had been acquitted of all charges in relation to Angolagate, clearing him of arms trafficking. With it looking increasingly like he will be proved innocent in the Bank Happoalim affair along with his suing of ex-business partner Lev Leviev over their Angolan diamond interests it would seem Arcady may be recovering his former influential position. As reported on True Blue Army, Arcady still has tax evasion charges to face but with Gaydamak it is quite clear you never know what might happen next. This writer will watch with interest.
I have heard it said in PFC circles that Mr Chainrai and Mr Kushnir have been surprised by the amount of interest the fans take in the business affairs of the club. This says a lot for their understanding of the running of a football club. However, the farcical events of the night of Friday 22 October suggest they have recovered from their surprise. The crass manipulation of fans’ feelings for the club in the melodramatic and premature announcements of immanent liquidation got the desired effect. Fans massed outside Fratton Park to be captured on TV. The story contended with Rooney’s pay all night on the news channels. Sacha Gaydamak was set up, once more, to be the demon king that would ruin PFC. We all remember Mr Storrie last year and his accusations of Sacha being happy to ‘bring on’ administration.
Of course, Sacha signed the agreement that was required. One wonders if the tactic was necessary at all. It seems unlikely, reading the consequent back-pedaling statements from ‘officer of the court’ Andronikou. Given this resurfacing of the kind of media manipulation that was rife in the months from August to February last season, it is interesting to look back at how the Club was brought to this position in the first place. There has been something of a parallel between events in Israel and events at Pompey since the end of 2005. The story begins with Arcady Gaydamak. Peter Storrie’s comments in the press after we went into Administration made it clear that he thought it was Arcady’s money that was feeding our premiership success. However, Sacha claimed that Pompey was his project. Whatever the truth of the matter, it is clear that there was a wide-spread belief that Arcady was the real beneficial owner of Portsmouth Football Club.
When Sacha bought into Pompey in 2006 his father, a flamboyant, charismatic, and controversial character, already owned Betar Jerusalem and was making a name for himself in Israel through a number of popularist and philanthropic gestures. Arcady was working at building his influence on the Israeli political scene, inaugurating a right-wing ‘Social Justice’ party with the stated aim of capturing seats in the Knesset. He courted Netanyahu and Premier Elhud Olmert. He upset the established Russian Jewish oligarch community, taking an independent stance from their influential political position. He said he was one of the five richest men in Israel and spent time and money courting popular opinion.
Behind all this, Interpol had an international arrest warrant out for Arcady as a result of the French ‘Angolagate’ enquiry. Throughout the nineties Arcady had been a prominent advisor to President Dos Santos in the civil war against the forces of UNITA. He was accused of supplying arms to the Angolan government from ex-Soviet sources despite a UN arms embargo. These arms included the landmines that still plague Angola today. Along with his partner Pierre Falcone and Christophe Mitterrand he was also accused of influence peddling and corruption.
Arcady claimed the charges against him were politically motivated in his capacity as ‘economic advisor’ to Dos Santos – a position which provided him with a diplomatic passport and allowed him to influence the highly profitable Angolan diamond market. Here he partnered Lev Leviev in the setting up of Leviev’s monopoly over the Angolan diamond market. There is much controversy concerning Arcady’s role in Angola, and it is interesting to note that he moved freely between countries all the time the enquiry was underway. (Greater detail can be found in the ‘Key Sources’ below). This was Arcady’s history before he arrived in Israel. The Israeli presswas under no illusion that Arcady’s foray into Israeli politics was to prove his oft quoted statement, ‘I am a good man,’ and aimed at ‘cleaning up’ his image.
Despite Arcady’s popular public acts seeming to belie the allegations against him, his business life was more complex. His dealings in Israel created a tangled web of relationships which have links to Pompey’s recent and current owners. Even before Sacha’s involvement in buying Pompey, in March 2005, Arcady was being investigated by Israeli police for his part in the money laundering scandal at Bank Hapoalim. He has constantly claimed his innocence – and continues to do so as he undergoes trial in Israel now (October 2010). Indeed there was very little money in his account at the time the police raided the bank – although a large sum was said to have been transferred out just before their investigations started. Suspicion was strong enough for Arcady’s assets in other countries to be frozen at that time although some have been released since (1).
Despite this he purchased Ocif in April 2007 – buying the property company at 85% over valuation with money borrowed from MTZF bank. This deal was mediated for him by Ron Maneh. He had plans for a property company extending into Russia, Israel and Africa. His purchase of Ameris from Kushnir and Chainrai was intended to provide a holding company for Ocif’s various activities. His plans collapsed along with the sudden failure of the property market in Israel in August 2007. This collapse was precipitated partly by the fall of Heftsiba – a large construction company whose CEO was found to have undertaken corrupt dealings due to his indebtedness to grey market lender Shlomo Narkis (2).
Over the next 12 months Arcady’s business dealings began to unravel. Not only was he unable to service bank loans tied up in Ocif, or meet his payments to Chainrai and Kushnir for Ameris shares – but also as early as July 2007, he was in dispute with Ron Maneh over the negotiation fees for Ocif, for a failed venture into the supermarket business with a company called Tiv Ta’am and two other business deals.
This dispute with Maneh was conducted through both the media and the courts, descending into a very public slanging match at one point – with Arkady accusing Maneh of trying to defraud and swindle him. Maneh fired back with accusations that Gaydamak ‘conducted negotiations with a lack of good faith.’ Gaydamak followed up with a law suit and Maneh accused him of slander (3). Gaydamak claims he never agreed to pay Maneh anything. If the usual business methods of the Russian/Jewish community – those of not committing too much to paper – prevail in this case, then Maneh may have trouble getting his money. Currently, I can find no record of this case having been settled. It is an interesting illustration of negotiation by media however, as seen more recently at Pompey.
By Summer 2008, whilst on the football field both Gaydamak teams had some success – Betar being Israeli champions and Pompey winning some cup or other – Arcady was apparently in a deep financial mire. He was running a political campaign to become mayor of Jerusalem in the elections of November 2008, not a cheap thing in itself, whilst at the same time facing court action on a number of fronts for money owed – the case with Ron Maneh was still ongoing. Angolagate was proceeding apace and a new money laundering case was running alongside the Bank Hapoalim issue. Arcady had to put up surety of $2.5m to bail himself whilst the new investigation of accusations by a Dutch Company continued (4).
In September 08 a receiver was appointed for Ocif on behalf of the MTZF bank. Ocif’s value had now fallen by 50%. Creditors – including Chainrai and Kushnir to whom Arcady had defaulted on the Ameris deal – appeared to be queuing up for their money. In a complication of court cases Ocif was sold and the bank got repaid. There doesn’t seem to have been enough collateral to appease other litigants however, as liens on Arcady’s assets were appointed to three separate parties in three separate judgements (5).
It is at this time that Pompey appears on a list of Arcady’s assets (6). Quoting Ydioth Ahronoth – an Israeli newspaper – the Times and other UK papers reported that Arcady valued Pompey at £300m. This unlikely sum gave the statement a surreal feel and the Premier League probably felt secure in stating that Sacha was the owner. What Arcady’s Israeli creditors may have felt is not known.
Speculation concerning Pompey was rife and in October 2008, whilst Harry was jumping ship, an article appeared in The Times (7) suggesting that court documents in the Angolagate investigation showed Sacha had in the past received some of Arcady’s arms dealing profits – about £34m. Sacha maintained that his business interests were distinct and separate from his father’s. The Premier League were called on to investigate by the government but nothing further was reported.
Meanwhile, Arcady continued his mayoral campaign but by election day, November 8th, his standing was not high, and a dish-the-dirt article in al Jazeerah with the subtitle ‘Shady past haunts would-be mayor’ probably helped discourage voters – he polled just 3.6% of the vote (8).
As far as Israel was concerned Arcady seemed to be finished. In December 2008 he paid the $2.5m surety to the court and fled Israel for Russia – in a luxury jet plane. Haaretz headlined the event ‘Mogul Gaydamak is fated to wander the world as a vagabond.’ The article concluded:
“All of the scandals have helped to forge the image of Gaydamak, that of a combative and quarrelsome man, who lives with the powerful contention that the world is against him. His jaunt in Israel lasted four years, in which his star rose like a blazing comet to the sky, eventually falling back to Earth with the same speed.
Not only did his workings and management style trip him up, it did the same for the Israelis he came in contact with, from financiers to politicians to lawyers and journalists that were willing to bow before any big mogul bursting forth from the darkness, without bothering to check whom they were dealing with.” (9)
In January 2009 one Daniel Azougy appeared at Betar demanding money, supposedly on behalf of Arcady, but the club appeared to be on the verge of bankruptcy and Azougy got nothing. Betar, like Pompey at the same time, started to sell off their playing squad (10). In March 2009 Azougy and Shlomo Narkis met with Arcady in Moscow. The Guardian, quoting Calcalist, an Israeli business publication, reported that they had discussed a $50m loan against his frozen assets (11). Arcady denied taking the loan but not having the meeting.
By April 2009 there were claims in the Israeli press that Sacha was hiding Arcady’s money (12). Arcady’s creditors were still persuing payment and this story, true or not, can not have appeased them. Sacha told Storrie to find a buyer for Pompey. May 2009 was when the games with PFC really began. First came al Fahim, then Storrie’s ‘level you won’t believe’ consortium – which included people suing Arcady. This consortium is the one that finally gained control in October 09 and involved, to varying degrees, parties who included Mr Chainrai, Mr Kushnir, Mr Maneh and his lawyer Yoram Yossifoff. Incidentally, the latter two are currently under investigation in Israel for tax evasion (13). Of course, the consortium was fronted by that well known Saudi, Mr Ali al Faraj.
By the time al Fahim was failing in September 2009, the Israeli courts had awarded Chainrai and Kushnir another lien on Arcady’s assets on September 28, which included Betar Jerusalem, his house in Caesarea, Bikur Holim hospital and a number of cars. However, the viable status of these assets was questionable and Betar Jerusalem undoubtedly was in debt to the verge of bankruptcy (14). Considering that by March 2010 Chainrai and Kushnir were threatening Arcady with bankruptcy proceedings one can only assume they didn’t get what they were claiming as a result of this charge. There was an out of court settlement of this case in June 2010. What that settlement entailed was not reported (15).
In October 2009 Arcady received two judgements whilst living in Russia. On 10th he was finally indicted for money laundering in the Bank Hapoalim case (along with about 50 others) and on 28th he was sentenced, in his absence, to 6 years imprisonment for his part in Angolagate by a French court. Also in October 2009 the al Faraj consortium took over at Pompey and we were told that Mr Chainrai’s Portpin lent money to Mr al Faraj’s Falcondrone. They brought in Mark Jacob, who had been an associate of Yossifoff’s since 2000 (16) and was Mr Chainrai’s lawyer. Also in their train, convicted fraudster Daniel Azougy, who talks of his association with Yossiffof and Maneh in the BBC ‘Fit and Proper’ documentary (17).
In January 2010 Sacha Gaydamak gave an interview to Colin Farmery (18). When asked about his father’s connections to Balram Chainrai, Levi Kushnir, Ron Maneh, Yorim Yossifoff and Daniel Azougy he suggested their involvement in Pompey was just a coincidence. The glaring question is, would they have been so aware of Pompey if they hadn’t been interested in Arcady’s business affairs and did their difficulties in getting paid by Arcady play any part in their desire to control the club? The land needed for the future essential development of Pompey as a successful business still rests in the hands of Sacha Gaydamak. You have to ask yourself, in the light of this history, whether there is any room for amicable negotiation between the two factions involved in the debacle of October 22? Will these matters continue to affect the club?
The story is not over. Until Mr Chainrai and Mr Kushnir show us how they are going to run our club we need to maintain our interest in their business methods. The point of retelling all this is that we can not yet afford to forget how we got where we are now. The strong feelings evoked in Portsmouth by the near loss of the club have left their mark. That the story goes beyond Pompey and even football only highlights the need for more careful regulation of the business of football and the ownership of clubs. That such events can have a knock-on effect onto the community and City of Portsmouth – so far removed from the source of the problem – is testament to the fact that English football has become too far detached from its origins. Time to give football back to the fans.
This somewhat simplified (believe me) history is indebted to two Pompey sources for its origins. The first is the work done by pompey-fans.com, in particular by Mike Hall, in unearthing the connections between the people involved. The second is the excellent archive of the pompeyonline.com message board, in particular the posts of gazzpfc going back to 2005. These latter posts provided a number of the Israeli newspaper sources listed in the notes below.
Key sources for Arcady Gaydamak’s activities in Angola (long, but worth a read):
Also see: ‘Angola the New Blood Diamonds’ the text of a talk by Rafael Marques given in November 2006 which can be downloaded from the School of Oriental and African Studies website. (Be warned: This article contains a
harrowing account of the human rights abuses carried out in the mining of Angolan diamonds.) (18.104.22.168/Marques-speech-Angola-The-New-Blood-Diamonds-28-Nov-2006.doc)
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