In his final days as mayor of New York City, Rudolph Giuliani traveled to Jerusalem to express his solidarity after a series of terrorist bombings struck the holy city. Coming just three months after terrorists flew two planes into New York's World Trade Center towers, killing thousands, Giuliani's visit resonated throughout Jerusalem. Israel's elite turned out for the Dec. 10, 2001, banquet in his honor, including Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Jerusalem's Mayor Ehud Olmert and, one of the most extraordinary operators in world business, Arcadi Gaydamak.
That Gaydamak was invited at all was a singular achievement. Just a year earlier, in December 2000, Gaydamak had fled France, where he was wanted for illegal gun running, tax evasion, money laundering and corruption. He stood accused of helping turn one of the world's longest-standing wars into a honey pot of enrichment for himself and influential friends in Angola, Israel, Russia and France.
Giuliani likely did not know that the short, stocky man he was introduced to was a fugitive from justice and a central figure in an arms scandal that had rocked the French political establishment. Gaydamak, who by then had Hebraized his name to Ari Barlev, was invited, he said, because he had contributed a million dollars to the fund for victims of the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States.
The invitation was illustrative of Gaydamak's trademark ability to buy access and influence people. He attended the dinner with his friend and business partner, Gen. Amnon Lipkin-Shahak, the former Israeli tourism minister and ex-chief of staff of the Israeli Defense Forces. He numbered among his other business associates Danny Yatom, who headed Mossad, Israel's intelligence agency, before being appointed security advisor to former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak. Gaydamak also employed Avi Dagan, Mossad's former head of intelligence gathering.
"Here I am a respected citizen," Gaydamak boasted to the French daily Le Monde in January 2002. "You see, I don't hide at all."
Gaydamak has three homes in Israel, one in the posh neighborhood of Cesaria, 30 miles north of Tel Aviv, where Israel's rich and famous reside. Another house, in the fashionable Herzliya Pituach, 10 miles north of Tel Aviv, is near the residence of the legendary former foreign minister Abba Ebban. His third home is an apartment in the Mamila section of Jerusalem, overlooking the old walled city – a view that gives him pleasure, he said, and a sense of history during his morning walks through the small, winding streets to the Wailing Wall.
Gaydamak claims to be among the five richest men in Israel, which would put him in the billionaire category. He owes this vast fortune, he said, to shrewd speculation on the Russian stock market, particularly oil stocks, and not to the profits of war. Gaydamak insists he was never an arms dealer, rather a "financier of deals."
A nearly two-year global investigation by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists has revealed, however, that Gaydamak epitomized the business of war in the post-Cold War era – an entrepreneur with global ties to arms smuggling, resource exploitation and private military companies.
A 'bit of luck'
Born in Moscow in 1952, Gaydamak was 20 when he became one of the first Jews to immigrate to Israel from Leonid Brezhnev's Soviet Union, a journey that earned him two audiences with then Prime Minister Golda Meir. But life in Israel was difficult and not to his liking, he said, and he left for France six months later, with three francs in his pocket. Gaydamak said his subsequent rise to riches was due to "quite a bit of luck."
Having no formal education, Gaydamak worked initially as a gardener and a bricklayer. In 1976, he opened a translation bureau near Paris, servicing Russian commercial delegations visiting France, and made contacts at a number of French companies. By 1982, Gaydamak Translations was a highly successful business, and he opened a branch in Canada.
As East Europe's old regimes crumbled in 1989, Gaydamak's financial genius found its true expression. He diversified and expanded into more lucrative import-export trades with the former Soviet Republics in coal, meat, wheat and, finally, weapons. According to ICIJ's investigation, Gaydamak created a maze of enterprises in Russia, the Netherlands, France, Luxembourg, England, Switzerland, and Israel. In France, he formed the International Company of Technology and Investment. In London, among others, it was Minotaure (UK) Ltd and Edsaco Holdings (UK) Ltd; in Jersey, Edsaco Participation Ltd; in Luxembourg, Extrainvest, Palmeto, Luxstreet, and Pivoine; in the Netherlands, Reminvest BV; and he registered at least one company, Rangoon, in the Isle of Man.
Gaydamak seldom signed or put his name to anything. The wide network of shell companies, and the labyrinthine paper structures of his companies, some of them administered by offshore trust accounts, gave him further cover.
Gaydamak was "remarkably capable of profiting from the political and commercial opportunities offered by the end of the Soviet Union," according to a document prepared by the Direction de Surveillance de Territoire, or DST, France's domestic security service. A Dutch intelligence report obtained by ICIJ said that Gaydamak, through his connections in Russia, was able to purchase old Soviet and East European weapons systems that still had markets in war zones in Africa, Asia or Latin America. For example, according to the Dutch report, the Russian state-owned arms company Rosvoorouzhenie was the majority (67.5 percent) shareholder in the Slovakian arms manufacturing company, ZTS Osos, whose weapons Gaydamak sold to the Angolan government during the early 1990s. An Interpol document obtained by ICIJ notes that in 1995 Gaydamak was the representative of ZTS Osos in Russia.Gaydamak cultivated relations with Russian leaders and the country's emerging tycoons. His contacts in the post Soviet power structure came to include Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov; the president of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev; the former military chief and later governor of Russia's Karatchevo Cherkesia province, Vladimir Semenov; and the Russian oil magnate Mikhail Khodorkovsky, president of Yukos Oil. In December 2000, Gaydamak was appointed chairman of the Russian Credit Bank, a post that was filled when he stepped down in 2001 by the economics minister and adviser to former President Boris Yeltsin, Aleksandr Livsits.
Gaydamak also attracted the attention of Russian and French law enforcement agencies. According to a 1995 communiqué from Russia's Interpol office, a copy of which was obtained by ICIJ under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act, American Interpol officials in Washington, D.C., were alerted that Gaydamak was "suspected by our law enforcement authorities of firearms and drug trafficking." In the April 19 letter, the Russians said Gaydamak was "reported to be one of the members of criminal association having international connections" and that "Moscow Organized Crime Control Department advised us the subject was exercising threats through his connections in Moscow to the Bank of Russian Credit."
Russian Interpol officials also contacted their counterparts in France for assistance in investigating Gaydamak. In April 1996, Russian Interpol said Gaydamak was "under suspicion of ... being a member of a criminal organization operating at international scale."
French law enforcement agencies found Gaydamak's new-found prosperity suspicious. The Direction Centrale des Renseignements Généraux (DCRG) – France's equivalent of the FBI – started asking questions about his lifestyle.
"He led a modest life during the first 15 years (from 1972 until 1987) of his stay in France," said a DCRG file from May 29, 1998. "But suddenly, without any apparent reason and financing, his lifestyle became extravagant. His professional activities in France cannot pay for the opulence he likes showing." Even the DST – the French secret service agency that, it was later revealed, had worked with Gaydamak – described his business acquaintances as "troubling," according to a French government memo.
Tokhtakhounov emerged from obscurity on July 31, 2002, when he was arrested in Italy on a U.S. complaint that he had conspired to fix the figure skating and ice dancing pair's competitions at the winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. Tokhtakhounov is fighting extradition, and his lawyer has proclaimed his client's innocence.France's foreign intelligence agency, the Direction Générale de la Secrete Exterieure (DGSE), reported that Gaydamak was a business partner of Alimjar Tokhtakhounov, "a leading member of the Russian Mafia ... involved in kidnappings of Russian exiles in Germany and racketeering," according to a July 28, 1998, DGSE file, shown to ICIJ. Judicial and police sources in France suspected Gaydamak of being involved with Tokhtakhounov in a scheme to launder money, using complicated transactions with real estate and Russian art.
Gaydamak acknowledged in an interview with ICIJ that he knew Tokhtakhounov socially and had found him to be a "sympathetic" person, but claimed he severed ties with him in 1994 when media stories surfaced about Tokhtakhounov's links to criminal organizations, because such an association "was not good for my image."
Gaydamak also had ties to several foreign intelligence agencies, including the Russian and the French. His contacts among Russian intelligence were the result of political upheaval of the 1990s, when business people "had very strong relationships with the political and the security people," Gaydamak said. In 1995, his Russian contacts enabled him, he said, to secure the release of French hostages held in a part of Bosnia controlled by Serbs loyal to Belgrade, which was close to Moscow at the time. French President Jacques Chirac later awarded Gaydamak the Legion d'Honneur, although whether he was honored for his business acumen, negotiating skills or aid to French intelligence remains a subject of dispute in France.
Gaydamak was close to Raymond Nart, the former assistant chief of France's domestic security agency, the DST, who was instrumental in his receiving the Legion d'Honneur. According to reports in the French media, Nart had used Gaydamak's contacts in Eastern Europe to improve his agency's penetration of the region, and in return offered Gaydamak protection. The French weekly Le Point reported that in December 1996 DST agents seized documents on Gaydamak held by France's fiscal police, which they had obtained in a raid on a French business that Gaydamak had ties to. The documents were never returned, the weekly said.
Documents from Russian Interpol from the mid-1990s seem to support suspicions that Gaydamak was protected by political associates in the French Interior Ministry, which controls the police and the French secret service. Russian Interpol complained that their Paris counterparts were ignoring their requests for help in the investigation of Gaydamak's links to criminal organizations: "Our previous messages (of January and March 1994) have never been answered (by French Interpol)," the Russian agents wrote in an April 1996 telex.
The scrutiny into his lifestyle resulted in his prosecution. On March 3, 1999, Gaydamak was given a 13-month suspended prison sentence and fined $35,000 for tax evasion. The French Finance Ministry had found that, at the beginning of the 1990s, Gaydamak officially reported annual earnings of less than U.S. $100,000 a year when he actually earned more than 10 times that amount. Gaydamak disputed the charges, claiming he had lived in London at the time, and was not liable for the French taxes.
A clique of gunrunners
Much of what is publicly known about Gaydamak's international dealings is the result of an extraordinary influence peddling, money laundering and illegal arms sales scandal involving Angola that erupted in France in December 2000 and came to be known as "Angolagate."
The investigation began when two French prosecutors were appointed to examine suspicions of bribery and corruption in the state's weapons export business. The resultant findings rocked the French political establishment and led to the highly publicized arrest of Jean-Christophe Mitterrand, the son of former President Francois Mitterrand who is free on bail pending his trial for influence-peddling. Other leading French politicians, such as former Interior Minister Charles Pasqua, were implicated in the scandal, but never charged.
Aside from the big political names, the scandal's central figures were Gaydamak and his French partner in the arms deals, Pierre Joseph Falcone. Gaydamak met the Algerian-born Frenchman in the early 1990s. Falcone's father, Pierre Falcone Sr., was a Corsican fruit merchant who had settled in Algeria and become an arms dealer in Venezuela and Argentina.
Although Falcone was well connected in France, he had lived many years abroad, including in Brazil and the United States. He married a Bolivian beauty queen named Sonia and settled in Arizona, where his wife became one of the queens of Arizona high society.
The Falcones bought a ranch in Paradise Valley, northeast of Phoenix, for $10.5 million – at the time the most expensive home sale in Arizona history. They were known for large donations to local charities, such as the Phoenix Children's Hospital. They also gave to political campaigns. Joyce Haver, a Phoenix member of the Republican Party's national finance committee, told The Arizona Republic that Sonia Falcone was "a major campaign contributor who responded to all of the George W. Bush fundraisers" in the Phoenix area during the presidential campaign. She added that the Falcones wanted to hold a fund-raiser for then-candidate Bush, but it never happened because Republican Party officials didn't know the Falcones well enough.
Through her Utah-based company Essante Corp., Sonia Falcone donated $100,000 in two installments to the Republican Party in 2000. When the party discovered, in January 2001, that Sonia Falcone was the wife of an accused arms dealer, it returned the money.
But when Gaydamak met him, Falcone was still flying high. He effectively was running the Sofremi, an arms export agency controlled by the French Interior Ministry. Sofremi was created in 1985 to coordinate the export of French police and military equipment and, critics contend, to circumvent the diplomatic scruples of the Foreign Affairs Ministry. France originally owned 35 percent of Sofremi, while several arms manufacturing companies, such as Thomson SA, Alcatel SA and Aerospatiale SA, controlled the rest. However, a clique of gunrunners soon assumed control of the organization and held it until well into the 1990s.
Henri Hurand, CEO of the Sofremi since 1997, told the French newspaper Le Figaro that "the most significant period of the Sofremi's domination by gunrunners was that of Pasqua's term as Minister of the Interior" – when Pierre Falcone was dominant within the organization. Pasqua was interior minister – effectively the country's top law enforcer – from 1986 to 1988 and again between 1993 and 1995. A veteran of the French resistance against the Nazis, he was also one of the founders of the Service d'Action Civique (SAC), disbanded in the 1980s under order of the French parliament, which branded it "a criminal organization" and "a private militia."
Sofremi was a gold mine for Falcone. Under normal circumstances, it would pay weapons dealers up to 10 percent of each transaction, but Falcone's commissions were well above that, Hurand told the newspaper in January 2001. "Normally, there was a different middleman for each market. But by 1992 Falcone was the Sofremi's sole representative abroad. This was totally abnormal. He received exorbitant remunerations on each operation."
The French-Angola connection
In early 1993, Angolan President Jose Eduardo dos Santos feared his government was on the brink of collapse. His nemesis, rebel leader Jonas Savimbi, was poised for the first time in Africa's longest-running war to seize key government strongholds. Savimbi – once embraced by the United States and the CIA for his opposition to Angola's Soviet- and Cuban-backed government – had become adept at turning the riches of Angola's diamond fields into money for arms purchases. Angola is the world's third-largest producer of diamonds.
Dos Santos was prevented by a U.N. arms embargo from buying weapons on the legitimate market. So he contacted his friend, Bernard Curiel, a former southern Africa expert from the French Socialist Party then in the private sector. Dos Santos received Curiel in the Angolan capital in March 1993 and, over a map of the country, explained the difficult military situation he faced. As Curiel later recalled for prosecutors, Dos Santos warned that "Savimbi is coming to Luanda to cut my throat."By 1993, Savimbi's UNITA, or the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola, had in place the world's largest diamond smuggling network, netting hundreds of millions of dollars a year, funding almost entirely its war effort. UNITA's switch from Cold War surrogate to import-export business had been assisted by former military and intelligence men from South Africa's apartheid era. Experienced in running covert operations disguised as businesses for apartheid front companies, many sought new lines of work in the private sector.
Curiel approached Mitterrand, son of France's then-president, who had once served as chief counselor to his father on African affairs. Mitterrand, in turn, sought out Falcone and Sofremi. French prosecutors investigating "Angolagate" alleged that Falcone paid Mitterrand at least $1.8 million for making that contact.
Mitterrand later admitted to receiving the money as "an endowment for strategic and geopolitical counseling" and spent three weeks in prison before posting bail. He is still awaiting trial, charged along with Falcone for peddling influence. In a French newspaper interview, Mitterrand conceded his role as a middleman and counselor to Falcone, but added, "I never knew that Pierre Falcone was involved in the selling of weapons to Angola before I read about it in the newspapers. Therefore, I couldn't imagine such dealings had an illegal character."
Falcone and Gaydamak had become business partners by the time of Mitterrand's approach. One of the first transactions they conducted together was to purchase seven Russian helicopters for Venezuela's national petroleum company, Gaydamak said. The Venezuelans failed to pay, and they put the helicopters in storage. It was then, Gaydamak told ICIJ, that Falcone introduced him to an Angolan delegation visiting Paris. "Falcone told me that he had met with the delegation and that they were interested in the helicopters but that they didn't have the money to pay for them. I leaped at the opportunity and told them to take the helicopters for free and pay me when they could. I asked them to pay me in oil. The president (Dos Santos) liked the idea; he invited me for a talk and we became friends."
Gaydamak discovered that he and Dos Santos had a lot more than helicopters to talk about. With his knowledge of banking systems, he said, he managed to secure $500 million credit lines from the French bank, Paribas, for the Angolan government in return for collateral in the form of Angolan oil.
"I knew that Russia had an interest in ridding itself of extra weapons and was greatly in need of cash," Gaydamak told the Israeli publication Yediot Aharanot in January 2000. "So I initiated a deal in which Angola would sell oil franchises and, with the money earned, buy weapons from the Russian Defense Ministry. It seemed to me a legitimate move that many business bodies take routinely. Naturally, I received a handsome commission, but I was not party to the deal."
Between 1993 and 1994, Gaydamak and Falcone moved $633 million dollars in weapons to the government of Luanda through the Sofremi, allegedly without authorization. These included tanks, rockets, helicopters, combat vehicles and troop transporters of Russian manufacture. Falcone's Paris-based company Brenco International provided a legal cover for the deals. The weapons were obtained through ZTS Osos and transported directly from Eastern European countries to Angola, bypassing France.
A gateway to riches
Re-armed, the Luanda government counterattacked. Angolan cities became ferocious battlegrounds as the war turned in favor of the government, and UNITA was dislodged, city by city, in a series of grinding battles. UNITA forces held out for 18 months in the eastern provincial city of Kuito, where the city's main street served as the front line. The inhabitants of Kuito camped in the husks of former apartment buildings and in the football stadium. Makeshift cemeteries – little mounds with wooden crosses and flowers – were constructed in backyards. Aid organizations were blocked from entering the area for almost a year. People resorted to eating corpses, and soon there were no dogs left in the city. When UNITA was finally driven out in July 1994, the city of 140,000 was left with one of the highest amputee populations in the world. UNITA had laid most of the mines, but the government's cluster bombs, resembling shiny toys, cost many children their limbs.
Angola in the 1990s was not a country for the squeamish. The capital city Luanda, built for 600,000 people, held up to 3 million – almost a third of the population – as people fled fighting in the interior. Corruption was rampant. When Falcone and Gaydamak came to Angola to do business in 1994, the monthly minimum wage was 240,000 kwanzas – about 50 U.S. cents. It cost twice that much to send a child to private lessons (very little of the state school system was intact), a quarter of a month's wages for a loaf of bread, one-eighth for a bucket of clean water, and one-sixteenth to use a toilet in private. Women sold goods and themselves in the marketplace in a desperate scramble to keep up with inflation, estimated by the World Bank at 1,800 percent. Anything with the slightest value was bartered or sold. One family, in the toothpaste business, had their children rummage through trash dumps for spent toothpaste tubes that the adults would then scrape out until they had a full tube to sell.
In this sadly reduced nation, Falcone and Gaydamak saw the gateway to a fortune. Angolan oil fields, already pumping more than half a million barrels a day in 1994, had known reserves comparable to Kuwait. But Angola also had diamonds and other minerals and, as a developing country with an infrastructure destroyed by war, had to import everything and rebuild from scratch. In recognition of his key position as war financier, Gaydamak said that Dos Santos appointed him as economic adviser, issued him a diplomatic passport and made him an authorized signatory on the bank account of the Angolan government.
The French investigation revealed that Gaydamak was also at the center of a web of corruption in Angola, uncovering more than 40 bank accounts in Monaco of Angolan citizens, including members of the Dos Santos family. Sofremi gave Dos Santos the "gift" of an armored luxury Renault Safrane worth $150,000 – a practice which Falcone defended, saying that the payment of illegal commissions to government officers "belongs to the way things work out in Angola."
Gaydamak was close to Angola's chief arms buyer, Gen. Manuel Helder Vieira Dias, also known as Kopelipa, and to the director of Angola's military intelligence, Gen. Fernando Miala. Together, they were able to access vast profits from the country's war machine.
According to the French indictment, Gaydamak, Kopelipa and Miala jointly owned the Angolan company Simportex, which enjoyed a monopoly on food and uniform delivery to the Angolan Armed Forces. In addition, Falcone and Gaydamak controlled CADA, a company in Angola that had an exclusive contract to deliver food and pharmaceutical products to the country, worth an estimated $200 million a year.
Gaydamak also helped the Angolans with debt relief, conjuring up a scheme that was designed to satisfy both the Angolans and their Russian creditors. Angola had accumulated a $5.5 billion debt to the Soviet state during the Cold War. The Russians never expected to recover the debt, but it remained on the books, undermining Luanda's creditworthiness. In 1996, Gaydamak said he came up with a plan. He proposed to the Russians that they accept 30 percent of the face value of the debt, not unusual for a country seeking returns on a debt considered virtually unrecoverable. Thus, the debt on the books was reduced to $1.5 billion. The Angolan government issued promissory notes of about $50 million each for the repayment of the debt and would pay $100 million a year for 15 years, starting in 2001 and ending in 2016.
The debt had been converted into financial instruments, like treasury notes. Then Gaydamak made another offer to the Russians, this time to purchase the notes from them. "I gave them an unbelievable price – 50 percent of the value of the promissory note – that is $750 million," he told ICIJ. The advantage for the Russians was that they would not have to wait five years to start recovering the money. To finance the purchase of the notes, Gaydamak turned to yet another firm he and Falcone had established, Abalone Investment Limited.
According to the deal structured by the Angolans, the promissory notes could be used to purchase Angolan oil at the face value of the notes — $1.5 billion worth. Gaydamak approached the oil trader Glencore, the former company of Marc Rich, the fugitive financier that President Bill Clinton pardoned in January 2001, and offered to sell the promissory notes for cash equal to 90 percent of their value – or $1.35 billion. The profit, according to Gaydamak's own telling, was $600 million.
Gaydamak paid 10 percent to the Angolans, still leaving a sizeable profit for himself, and the deal was completely legitimate, he told ICIJ. However, Swiss authorities – who launched their own investigation of Gaydamak and Falcone in April 2002 – said the Russian state never received what it was owed from Gaydamak. The deal resulted in a massive misappropriation of funds: Russia should have received $750 million but, according to Swiss prosecutor Daniel Devaud, it took in only $161 million.
Falcone received about $120 million and Gaydamak about $60 million, according to Devaud. Other people who profited from the debt reduction were Russian banker Vitali Malkine, a close associate of former Russian President Boris Yeltsin and Gaydamak's predecessor as chairman of the Russian Credit bank ($48.8 million); Angolan ambassador to France, Elisio Figuereido ($18.8 million), and Dos Santos himself (over $20 million). The money, according to Swiss investigators, traveled through bank accounts in Luxembourg, kept by firms based in Panama, Israel, and Cyprus.
Dos Santos has protested strongly to the Swiss government, denying the claims, and Falcone has said he did not pay any money to the Angolan president. Falcone also said that any payments to Figuereido were made to him as an official of the Angolan state and not for personal use. Malkine could not be reached for comment.
Devaud said Gaydamak and Falcone had built a "secret organization" with multiple fictitious enterprises to hide the flow of money resulting from the debt renegotiation, to the detriment of Angola and the Russian Federation.
In April 2002, Falcone and Gaydamak were again accused of trafficking weapons to Angola, this time for the period 1994 to 2000. Prosecutors in Paris have documents that allegedly prove that Falcone and Gaydamak masked their trade through yet another company. Instead of using ZTS Osos, the French prosecutors alleged, in 1996 they created Vast Impex to continue to furnish weapons to Angola until the summer of 2000.
French investigators discovered that – after the Angolan sales of the early 1990s – Falcone and Gaydamak's domination at the Sofremi continued and extended into other countries. The prosecutors inquiring into "Angolagate" have demanded that the French Defense Ministry reveal the contents of classified documents related to the authorization of exports of weapons to Angola, Congo-Brazzaville, Cameroon and the Democratic Republic of the Congo by Sofremi, Brenco International and ZTS Osos between 1999 and 2000. Six demands were presented, and three of them were rejected on national security grounds. Former Cameroonian Defense Minister Edouard Akameme Mfoumoufou confirmed that he had negotiated a deal with Falcone for light arms from ZTS Osos.
Falcone was omnipresent at the Sofremi. Between 1994 and 1997, he received commissions related to exports to Latin America, including the selling of antiquated police equipment to Bogotá and Buenos Aires. Falcone was also supposed to earn a commission from the Sofremi for exports of equipment to the federal police in Brazil for $40 million. But in 1997, the Sofremi's new board of directors blocked the payments.
In late 1994, at the same time the Angolans were receiving weapons via Gaydamak and Falcone, they hired an army of South African mercenaries – warriors of the defunct apartheid state – known as Executive Outcomes. EO, as the company was called, had been a front company for a dirty tricks and hit squad run by South Africa's military intelligence. It was first hired by the Angolan oil company, Sonangol, to protect the company's assets. Drawn from some of South Africa's most notorious military units, the men who worked for EO proved effective because they understood the nature of the bush war and they knew the enemy – in fact, they had been one-time UNITA allies. They provided high-tech skills in communication and weapons systems and piloted the Angolan government's fleet of MiG fighter jets. They also offered training, intelligence, logistics and battlefield planning. The combination of fresh arms and South African mercenaries helped the Angola government force Savimbi to the peace table.
Though that was not to last, Gaydamak was inspired. He saw private military services as a further commercial opportunity and teamed up with two former senior officials of Mossad, Danny Yatom and Avi Dagan, to create a private military company, which they called Strategic Consulting Group. The Israelis, like the South Africans, had a track record of providing security in Angola. In September 1992, Israel had armed the Angolan police, preventing Luanda from falling to UNITA, though the Angolan police were accused of committing atrocities against UNITA supporters.
Yatom met Gaydamak through Moshe Levy, the owner of Lordan-Levdan, another private military company that was training the president of Congo-Brazzaville's private militias under a $50 million contract. The Israelis were under retired Brig. Gen. Zeev Zachrin, who had trained the pro-Israeli militia in Southern Lebanon. But the Congo-Brazzaville deal, which also involved a trade for oil concessions, was controversial in Israel, and Zachrin moved over to Angola, where he took charge of Gaydamak's projects there. Yatom went to Angola, met with Dos Santos and offered him a personal security package to train the presidential guard for $50 million. But even to Dos Santos, this seemed overpriced, and the contract was not awarded. Yatom left the partnership when he was appointed security advisor to then Israeli President Ehud Barak in 1999. Dagan continues to work for Gaydamak.
Toward the end of the 1990s, a new player appeared on Angola's horizon – again with ties to Gaydamak. Lev Leviev, like Gaydamak, was a self-made entrepreneur from the former Soviet Union who immigrated to Israel. And like Gaydamak, the Tashkent-born Leviev had a taste for playing politics. On the mahogany table of his Tel Aviv office sits strategically placed photographs of Leviev shaking hands with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma and Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan.
Leviev became involved in Angola after buying into the Catoca diamond mine – a joint venture between the Russian state diamond company, Almazy Roskii Sakha (Alrosa), and the Angolan state diamond company, Empresa de Diamantes de Angola (Endiama). Leviev, who was close to the then-head of Alrosa, Valery Rudakov, said he helped bail out the financially ailing venture with a $58 million investment, thus becoming a partner in what at the time was the largest diamond mine in Angola.
In 1997, Leviev met with Dos Santos, who "wished to know this crazy businessman who was ready to invest $58 million in his country without knowing anyone from the authorities," Leviev told ICIJ in an interview.
Dos Santos complained bitterly to Leviev about how little De Beers was doing for Angola. "He said De Beers had no interest in developing Angola's diamond industry. All the buying firms were controlled by and worked with De Beers, but Angola did not gain and benefit from them. These companies claimed zero profits and paid nothing to the government," Leviev said.At their first meeting, Leviev discovered that he and Dos Santos shared a common language, Russian (Dos Santos had studied in Moscow during the war against Portuguese colonialism), and a mutual loathing for the De Beers diamond monopoly. Leviev had once been a favored customer of De Beers, but was cut off for selling Russian stones through his offices in Tel Aviv – a challenge to the De Beers monopoly. De Beers refused to discuss its relationship with Leviev, citing client confidentiality.
When Dos Santos asked him what he should do, Leviev replied, "I said, ‘You must reform the industry,' and suggested to him to form a joint venture between the government and us as private investors."
Dos Santos followed up that meeting in 2000 by creating Ascorp – a partnership between Leviev, Belgian diamond dealers Sylvain Goldberg and Guy Laniado, and the Angolan state. There were also hidden shareholders, notably Dos Santos' daughter, Isabella, through the Swiss Company Tais, according to diplomats in Luanda and diamond industry sources, all of whom spoke on condition they not be named. The creation of Ascorp made Leviev Angola's diamond czar and, in 2001, De Beers announced its complete withdrawal from the lucrative Angolan market. Ascorp more than trebled the revenue that the Angolan government received from diamonds just three years before. The Israeli security team that Leviev brought in largely cleaned up the smuggling of stones, and he claimed that the UNITA movement was no longer able to launder its "blood diamonds" through the official system.
What Leviev neglects to mention when he tells his Angolan success story is his partnership with Gaydamak. On his annual visits to Angola, Leviev would travel about in Gaydamak's plane. One commercial intelligence report, obtained by ICIJ, said: "Confidential sources inside the Angolan presidency confirm that Leviev used the influence and extensive contacts of Gaydamak to negotiate and secure the exclusive diamond buying arrangement with the Angolan government." Leviev denied that Gaydamak had introduced him to the Angolan market, saying that his involvement there began through the Russian company Alrosa. "I came to Angola in 1997, while my encounters with Arcadi began in 1999."
Gen. Miala, Gaydamak's business associate in a number of deals in Angola, was involved in appointing and chairing the commission that runs Endiama, Angola's state-owned diamond company. And Gaydamak said it was his idea to establish Ascorp and that he helped draft the decree that created the company.
In January 2000, Gaydamak paid $75 million for a 15 percent stake in Leviev's company, the Africa Israel Group, an Israel-based holding company involved in real estate and construction. Africa Israel next acquired 26 percent in Alon Israel Oil Company. In August 2000, Alon Israel Oil Company purchased the assets of TotalFinaElf SA in the United States for $250 million. The deal included an oil refinery in Texas with a 60,000 barrel-per-day capacity, various depots for oil storage, pipelines, and a franchise for 1,700 gas stations on the U.S. East Coast and part ownership of the attached "7-11" convenience stores.
The partnership had already expanded geographically. In April 1999, Gaydamak and Leviev were granted permission by the president of Kazakhstan to acquire the Tsellinnoye Chemical Metallurgical plant, a producer of polymetals and chemical products.
Tsellinnoye had produced enriched uranium for the Soviet nuclear program during the Cold War, and was located near the world's largest biological warfare development and production facility. It is still the largest uranium manufacturer in Kazakhstan, according to some reports, though Gaydamak says it has nothing to do with uranium anymore and is now a fertilizer factory.
Whatever charm Leviev and Gaydamak used to acquire the property, they acquired it over the protests of the Canadian company World Wide Minerals of Toronto, which had fallen out of favor with Nazarbayev. In 1998, World Wide, which had invested $29 million in the project, launched a billion dollar lawsuit against the government of Kazakhstan. It had taken over management of the complex in 1996 and had an option to boost its interest to 90 percent. However, the Kazakhstan government refused to issue uranium export licenses and revoked the option from World Wide.
"I am a good man"
In December 2000, when the "Angolagate" scandal broke, Gaydamak was in London. He eluded arrest by moving back to Israel, claiming he had forgotten to do his military service. He rejected all allegations that he was involved in criminal activity, including influence peddling, money laundering and illegal arms sales and, in April 2001, filed libel suits against the two French government agencies – the DCRG and the DGSE – responsible for some of the accusations. His French lawyer, Gilles-William Goldnadel, claimed the files of the French secret services were based on defamatory press reports that Gaydamak had always contested.
Falcone, who was charged on Dec. 1, 2000, with fiscal fraud, influence peddling, misuse of public property, deception and corruption of public officials, and gunrunning, was imprisoned for a year. Released in January 2002 on a multimillion-dollar bail, he was charged again with illegal weapons smuggling on March 27, 2002, and is awaiting trial. He is under orders to remain in France and refrain from contact with any of his alleged co-conspirators.
Falcone has denied he committed any offense and contends he is the victim of political machinations. "The weapons for Angola never passed through France, and were not freighted on French transports," he told a French newspaper. "There was neither illegal trade in weapons, nor traffic of influence, nor illegal commissions, no fiscal fraud." As to the allegations of bribery, Falcone said, "Prosecutors in their logic cannot admit that someone like me can be generous. Because I am rich, [to them] I am guilty."
Pasqua, the former French foreign minister, has complained publicly that his government's pursuit of Gaydamak and Falcone could hurt France's oil investments in Angola. The world's largest offshore oil platform began pumping oil from the Girassol field in December 2001. Operated by the French concern TotalFinaElf, it is expected to add 200,000 barrels of crude oil per day to Angola's output. "Angola has up to now given France important oil concessions," Pasqua told Le Parisien in March 2001. But, because of the French inquiry, that dominance "is about to fall into the hands of the Americans."
Pasqua may have had a point. A year later, after the death of Savimbi and the collapse of UNITA, Dos Santos was feted in Washington, D.C. But since the "Angolagate" scandal began, he has refrained from visiting Paris, a city he once frequented regularly.
Responding to Angola's ire, the French foreign minister traveled to Luanda in July 2002 to "turn a page" on the relations between both countries. Stories are circulating in Paris that the French want to drop the charges of gunrunning and corruption against Falcone and Gaydamak, rumors which the French government has pointedly failed to deny.Dos Santos has also urged French President Jacques Chirac to stop the judicial inquiry and to release Falcone. "The legal action against our official envoy Mr. Pierre Falcone," Dos Santos wrote Chirac on April 18, 2001, "causes grave moral prejudice to the Republic of Angola and might damage the good relations prevailing between our two countries." Dos Santos even called the inquiry "an offense to [Angolan] sovereignty" and Falcone "a great friend of my country … an important contributor to our successes in our battle against armed subversion and terrorism." Dos Santos had even tougher words for the Swiss. In a May 24, 2002, letter to the president of the Swiss Federation, Dos Santos called the inquiry by Swiss prosecutor Devaud a "violation of the principles of international law that rule the relations between Switzerland and Angola. …We consider Devaud's investigations as hostile acts."
Despite an outstanding international warrant for his arrest, Gaydamak continues to shuttle between Israel, Angola and Kazakhstan. Operating with a small staff and three cellular phones, which sometimes ring all at once, he continues to scout for business opportunities in Africa.
However, he no longer does business with Leviev, the Russian-Israeli diamond mogul whom he helped ensconce in Angola and who has now become a global challenger to the De Beers monopoly. The "Angolagate" scandal, which embarrassed Leviev, soured their friendship, and Gaydamak claims to have sold his shares in Africa Israel back to Leviev as it was "not a good investment." Leviev is also no longer a shareholder in the Kazakh operation. "We agreed to go out of all common projects," said Gaydamak.
There is an edge of bitterness to Gaydamak, a desire to convince people that he is not the gun-running scam artist that French prosecutors have alleged. He has invested millions in repairing his reputation, such as the donation he said he made to the World Trade Center victims. In Angola, he has established schools, a fleet of fishing boats, a hospital, and a water treatment plant.
He supports Jewish old age homes in Moscow, as well as 12 orphans' homes, and has funded 20 Angolan agricultural students who have been sent to hone their skills on an Israeli kibbutz. "There are thousands of people around the world who are now eating because of me," he told ICIJ. "I don't care what people think. I am a good man."
André Verlöy and Phillip van Niekerk contributed to this report.