Anyone who is close to Russian-Jewish billionaire Arcadi Gaydamak, or has paid attention to his irrational business dealings over the last year, gets the feeling that the mogul's wild love affair with Israel may be coming to an end.
It was clear, especially after his dismal showing in the Jerusalem mayoral elections, that Gaydamak had no intention of staying in the country. He is in the process of selling off several of his properties in Israel, and this week flew to Russia for an undetermined amount of time.
Gaydamak's problems started after his economic difficulties made it hard for him to put up the $2.5 million he owed courts in cash bonds relating to a money laundering investigation. While some people said he would flee Israel on his yacht, others had the Russian mogul and former arms dealer leaving legally in broad daylight. Last week, he finally raised the money, paid the bond and left the country in a private jet. It is very doubtful whether he will come back.
The doubt is not only because his assets - the house in Herzliyah, Ceasaria, and Jerusalem, plus a number of business investments are up for sale, but mainly due to the possibility that he may face money laundering charges.
Police and prosecutors are wrapping up an investigation into allegations of these offences and intend to present Gaydamak with an indictment soon. They are convinced that this time they have a tight, well-built case against the billionaire.
The indictment will deal with Gaydamak's purchase of a Dutch company for tens of millions of dollars, through the use of middlemen, without reporting that they were using his money.
If the Dutch authorities had known the money was Gaydamak's they wouldn?t have approved the deal, due to his legal problems in France. If Gaydamak's lawyers aren't able to get the indictment dropped, chances are he will not return to Israel. He has stated on several occasions that he would never sit in prison and would rather lose the $2.5 million in collateral than spend a day behind bars.
Gaydamak was always a bit out of place in Israel. This could be seen in his style of dress, very poor Hebrew proficiency, and inability - or lack of desire - to assimilate into Israeli society. His walk, manners, and body language projected a measure of contempt towards Israelis and Israel.
Also, he found a way to insult almost every person that crossed his path: Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, former defense minister Amir Peretz, former Sderot Mayor Eli Moyal, in addition to a number of parliamentarians and TV presenters.
Gaydamak came to Israel after the French authorities filed an international arrest warrant against him. He first arrived in France in 1973, after he had disembarked from an Israeli cargo ship that had docked in Marseilles.
Living as an illegal immigrant in France, he managed to butt heads with everyone he met, from business associates to friends to the dozens of attorneys he hired and fired over the years. With every broken relationship, Gaydamak fired off allegations that his former associates were blackmailers, thieves, or liars.
Gaydamak is a sort of modern-day tough guy fated to wander the world as a vagabond. In France he remains a wanted man, the only one of dozens charged in the "Angolagate" affair who has not turned himself in to authorities.
Angolagate was an international scandal wherein Gaydamak and his business partner Pierre Falcon allegedly bribed public officials in France in order to engineer mass arms shipments to Angola during the country's protracted civil war, arms sales that totaled over $800 million.
Gaydamak's first big score - for a hundred million dollars - was made off this first weapons deal.
After all was said and done, though, Gaydamak welched on a deal with the government of Angola to broker a $6.4 billion debt the West African country had accrued with Soviet Union. In a complicated web of transactions, Gaydamak did not pay the full amount he owed the Russians, depositing the money in his own offshore accounts instead. This forced Angola to pay Russia $300 million dollars again. Later, a Luxembourg banker who managed Gaydamak's funds pursued him over unpaid commission fees.
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.
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