Arcadi Gaydamak (Moti Kimche)
Gaydamak in Israel on Wednesday Photo by Moti Kimche
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Businessman Arcadi Gaydamak, charged with laundering more than NIS 650 million, appeared at the opening hearing of his trial on Wednesday. His appearance at the Tel Aviv District Court followed several months of delays and much speculation as to whether he would return to Israel for the trial.

Before the hearing Gaydamak jokingly asked members of the press to explain to him what he was accused of, because he "couldn't understand the charges," but his attorney David Libai told the judge that the accused read and understood a Russian translation of the indictment.

Libai also told Judge Gilad Neuthal that his client denies the charges. Gaydamak rose at the judge's request to confirm his lawyer's statement.

According to the indictment, Gaydamak and other business partners purchased a Dutch phosphate company through a straw buyer, while Gaydamak's identity as buyer was concealed. This was allegedly made possible through the cooperation of Poalim Trust Services and a series of false banking statements.

The company's directors, Haim Shamir and Shlomo Recht, legal advisor Ram Levy, the alleged "straw buyer" Nahum Galmor, and customer relations manager Keren Laloum, were all indicted yesterday along with Gaydamak. All of the accused deny all charges.

Neuthal ruled that they must file their response to the indictment by October 28, and that the hearing of evidence will commence in February.

On his way out of the hearing, Gaydamak was stopped by a supporter carrying a sign saying "Arcadi Gaydamak, thank you tzadik, the people of Sderot love you." He thanked the Russian oligarch for sending the residents of Sderot to a hotel as a barrage of rockets from the Gaza Strip struck the southern city.

Asked by Haaretz if he feared extradition to France, where he had been sentenced in absentia to six years in prison and charged a 5 million euro fine for illegal arms trade with the Angola government and money laundering, Gaydamak said: "Angola is over, now it's about Bank Hapoalim."

The businessman has spent much of the past year in Russia, which, unlike Israel, does not have a policy of extradition.

According to Libai, the issue extradition to France did not arise, "and I have no knowledge of any such matter. I don't know about an arrangement or any commitment by the prosecution not to extradite him."

The Justice Ministry declined to comment on the issue of extradition.