A smidgen of pride was restored in our hearts last week, as we read that an Israeli private investigator, Moshe Buller, had doggedly tracked down fugitive Comverse founder Kobi Alexander in Sri Lanka.
Alexander, a tried and true Israeli who lives in New Jersey and owns a mansion in Caesarea too, is suspected of stealing tens of millions of dollars from Comverse shareholders, by back-dating stock options and other manipulations.
Too many Israelis are suspected of finagling stock options to steal money from American investors, and locals were starting to wonder if a nasty new stigma was going to become associated with the word "Israeli". And along comes this enterprising PI, as purely Israeli as the alleged miscreant himself, finds the fugitive, and proves that there are other Israelis, too.
But is this really so? I'll go out on a limb here and predict that the story of Alexander's exposure in Sri Lanka is a lame horse of a story, neighing its last. Its proper place was the bottom of page 48, perhaps, not the front page, and its headline should have been, "Israeli PI claims to have seen Alexander in Sri Lanka".
Buller's story has more holes than a Swiss cheese, and that goes for all its many versions. Buller, apparently the sole source of the story, has more than one account of events.
Here are a few of the questions that his story/ies beg/s.
1. Who hired him? Buller says hedge funds that had invested in Comverse, which is the company that Alexander founded and led, before being forced to resign as the stock options scandal came to light. Their purpose was to find the fugitive in order to stop the share price from sliding further.
But the truth is that Alexander today has zero connection to the company. Shares in Comverse have rallied nicely and it is far from obvious how catching the fleeing Alexander would affect its share price. Investors don't need him to be hauled in to file civil suits, either.
2. How was Alexander found? Buller claims he tapped Alexander's house phone (or Internet) line. Is Buller actually admitting to breaking the law, given that wiretapping is illegal? The PI claims that the intercepted call that mattered was carried out through Internet phone system Skype. Locating a phone call's origin via Internet can be very difficult, and it's hard to believe that Buller pulled it off so quickly and easily.
Buller claimed in conversation with TheMarker to have been helped by "contact people" in Greece and Bucharest, Romania. He defines these contacts as businessmen who earned a lot of money at his expense and owe him a great deal. In Romania, Buller says, he met with a man who owns casinos, who is also connected with Alexander. Got it now? If anything, the story just grows weirder. "I had a great time in the Greek taverns," reports our Israeli Hercule Poirot.
3. The meeting - how did Buller catch up with Alexander and identify him? Buller chains he has pictures of Alexander that he hasn't released. In one version of his story, Buller said he observed Alexander sleeping. In a later version he says he saw the hi-tech executive typing on a laptop, adding that Alexander had replaced his glasses and grown in his hair. If the detective had seen Alexander sleeping, then presumably he didn't see the tycoon's glasses.
4. Why did Buller race from paper to paper, handing out his (morphing) version of events? If his employers hired he PI to lay their paws on Alexander, then Buller has just made their work a lot harder. If Alexander really was in Sri Lana, ten to one he isn't there any more.
5. The U.S. may have asked Sri Lanka to extradite Alexander, but that doesn't prove that Buller's story is true. It is only natural for the authorities to make every effort to investigate the tale, and to take precautions while about it. But the FBI - unlike our intrepid detective - seems to be still groping in the dark.
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