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The end of the “diamond king”. Relatives of friend Putin and Trump arrested
In Israel, six suspected of smuggling diamonds worth over $ 80 million were detained and arrested for a week in Israel. The smuggling criminal case, as it turned out, the Israeli police and tax authorities have been investigating for a year. The court of Rishon Le Zion allowed their names to be published. Among those arrested were Zvulon Levayev, the son of an Israeli billionaire of Soviet descent Lev (Levi) Leviev, his brother Moshe Leviev, and three employees of Leldaev’s LLD Diamonds company. Lev Leviev is a native of the USSR, one of the richest people in Israel and the owner of many assets in Russia and around the world who made a fortune in the mining, trading and cutting of diamonds. The name of Leviev, who is often called the “diamond king,” was featured in several publications about Donald Trump’s ties with Russia, and his firm in the “Magnitsky affair”.
Couriers in piles
On Wednesday, November 7, the detentions of the suspects in this case continued. The police came to three more LLD Diamonds employees, all of the detainees were searched. In addition, Lev Leviev’s Israeli assets of several million dollars were arrested: his villa and diamonds found in the offices of LLD Diamonds in the building of the Diamond Exchange near Tel Aviv.
According to officially published suspicions, an Israeli citizen, an employee of one of the Russian diamond processing factories owned by Leviev, six months ago tried to smuggle in precious stones to Israel worth 270,000 dollars. To do this, he allegedly took advantage of the status of a “returning Israeli” (“toshing the hozer”): Israel provides a number of benefits to citizens of the country who left it and lived for at least a few years abroad if they return to the country for permanent residence. Among these benefits are customs duties for the importation of personal property. The suitcase with diamonds, according to Israeli media, citing unnamed police sources, was confiscated by customs officers when they tried to go through the “green corridor” without declaring the things imported.
In addition, the police suspect that students of religious Jewish schools, yeshivas, who also brought diamonds from Russia to Israel, were involved in the smuggling scheme that had been operating for the past 16 years, possibly because the Jews with religious passports caused less suspicion among customs officers . But that’s not all: according to the version of the Lahav 433 police special unit investigating this case (it is known as the Israeli FBI) and is investigating the most notorious cases involving organized crime, including the corruption case against the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu), part of the precious stones imported to Israel in this way were mined in Africa, in countries where the purchase of diamonds is prohibited by international conventions. Such diamonds are often called “bloody”, since the money from their sale is more likely to be used to finance military conflicts. Russia has also joined these conventions, so if the suspicions of the Israeli police prove to be reasonable, this will mean that for some reason the Russian customs passed diamonds through the border, the import of which into the country was strictly prohibited.
Childhood, adolescence, youth
Lev Avnerovich Levaev was born in 1956 in Tashkent, in a family of Bukhara Jews. His father, Avner Levaev, was a follower of Lyubavichsky Hasidism; his grandfather was arrested in 1949 for propaganda of Jewish religious traditions and exiled to Siberia for 25 years. According to some data, Leviev’s father was the head of the state antique shop, according to another version – the deputy director of the city department store. As Israeli writer Pyotr Lyukimson writes in his book “Business in Hebrew”, his father raised Leviev in strict Jewish orthodox traditions, for example, taught him to always wear a pile, for which Lev got around from his peers, anti-Semites. The Levayev family was wealthy, but at the same time led a rather modest lifestyle, helping other members of the community — among other things, Avner Leviev paid the “fine” to Bukhara Jews that Soviet citizens who had emigrated to Israel had to pay for education in the USSR — about 1,000 rubles.
His first money, writes Lukimson, Leviev earned after the birth of his younger brother: he sat on a bicycle and began to drive around relatives, each of whom gave him a ruble or two for good news. He allegedly bought the imported raincoats from an acquaintance of his father, the manager of a warehouse in a store, for an accumulated amount, subsequently selling them 2-3 times more expensive. Another legend says that at dawn Leviev collected bottles in city parks, earning in such a way from 80 to 120 rubles a month – more than his teachers.
In 1968, Avner Levaev sent his son to the underground Lubavich Hasidic yeshiva in Samarkand, where he continued to earn money in his free time: he repaired and resold broken bicycles and mopeds, and invested the proceeds in the purchase of out-of-date fashion and scarce goods, who then resold. It had no effect on his studies – in the 2001 article “Leviev and Emptiness”, published on the website of the Public Fund for Asian-European Studies, which had ceased to exist since then, it is said that already in 13 years Leviev became famous among the Jews of Tashkent to interpret the weekly chapter of the Torah in Hebrew. ”
In the same article is not the most pleasant for Leviev, but also not confirmed from any other sources version of why his family in 1971 had to repatriate from the USSR to Israel. The reason was allegedly interest in him and his father by OBKHSS, the Department for Combating the Plundering of Socialist Property, because of suspicion of speculation, which was a criminal offense in the Soviet Union. Before leaving for Israel, Avner Leviev bought diamonds for money he had, which for several years he himself and with the help of the repatriated Bukhara Jews in Israel could take out of the country.
As Forbes magazine wrote in 2004 (now this publication is not available on the publication’s website, but its copy has been preserved in other sources), Avner Leviev spent $ 1 million to buy diamonds before repatriating. In Israel, he was able to help out only 200 thousand for them – according to Forbes, the stones turned out to be of “low quality”, the authors of the article “Levaev and the Void” claim that they turned out to be false at all.
Start from scratch and fly up to heaven
In Israel, as follows from the same publications in the media, Lev Leviev had to start a career from the bottom of the diamond business. He settled down as a granulator in a small workshop, served in the army, and after that, in 1977, he opened his own lapidary production. According to Forbes, Leviev’s rise as a businessman was promoted by the crisis in the Israeli diamond market in the early 80s, when many stone merchants went bankrupt. Leviev managed to avoid this fate, since he avoided taking loans from banks on the security of his own reserves of diamonds. Leviev traveled all over the world to buy rough diamonds from Russia and South Africa to Great Britain and Holland. He was one of the first to use the laser-cut diamond, which was revolutionary at the time, which made it possible to level the shortcomings of each particular stone. 10 years after the opening of its plant in Israel, in 1987, Leviev was one of the largest diamond producers in the world and received the status of “sightholder” from the largest diamond mining corporation De Beers – it has a narrow circle of people around the world who have the right to buy diamonds without intermediaries.
At the end of the 80s, at the end of the Soviet regime, the General Directorate of Precious Metals and Diamonds (Glavalmazzoloto) was established under the USSR Council of Ministers, which was supposed to manage gold and diamond mining in the Union, as well as the diamond cutting and jewelry industry, and diamond wholesale , diamonds and jewelry in the USSR and abroad. According to the sectoral information and analytical agency Rough and Polished, which specializes in “studying the processes determining the development of the world market for diamonds and diamonds,” in 1989 representatives of Glavalmazzolota headed by the former head of the Yakutskalmaz trust Valery Rudakov chose Leviev as a partner for the first Soviet-Israeli diamond-cutting enterprise. The company was named “Ruiz Diamonds”, in 1991, after the collapse of the USSR, Leviev became the sole participant of the project.
Now “Ruiz Diamonds” is still one of the largest cutting enterprises in Russia, although Lev Leviev, according to the Kontur Focus database, is not among its founders (note that Leviev’s biography to which we refer has been removed from the website of the Rough and Polished agency, but its saved copy is available on the Internet).
In 1995, a businessman lost De Beers’ sightholder status – according to one of the versions, the reason for this was his participation in the sale with the help of “gray schemes” of diamonds from the USSR State Protection Agency. According to another, De Beers felt a serious competitor in Leviev. But the friendship with Valery Rudakov opened up new opportunities and cabinet doors on the highest levels of power: Leviev told Forbes that he had met with Mikhail Gorbachev more than once, however, as the businessman notes, they did not discuss the sale of diamonds, but the opening of Jewish religious schools, the creation and maintenance of which worldwide Levaev, like his father, invested a lot of money.
Leviev didn’t have any particular problems after the change of power in the country: in 1990, as Kommersant reported, Leviev bought the Moscow Jewelry Factory, and in 1996, according to Rough and Polished, he became co-owner of the Perm company Kama-Kristall “, the main raw materials for which were diamonds from the mine” Uralalmaz “. Soon, Russian President Boris Yeltsin signed a decree stating that 75% of the raw material mined at Uralalmaz should be cut at the place of extraction, although an audit of the Accounts Chamber in 2002 showed that Leviev actually enjoys a monopoly on the purchase of raw materials from Uralmaz. Russian media also reported that the Leviev’s Ruiz Diamonds company had become almost the exclusive buyer of diamonds mined by the ALROSA joint venture and the administration of the Anabar district of Yakutia, OAO Almazy Anabara. It was also reported about another Yakut enterprise of Leviev, OOO Almi Diam, which was engaged in cutting diamonds purchased from the Yakut mining enterprise OAO Nizhnelenskoye.
It is curious that through the Perm region Leviev is connected with another Russian businessman who has recently been experiencing problems – Dmitry Rybolovlev. Both Rybolovlev and Levaev worked closely with the former governor of the Perm Region, and now the Deputy Prime Minister of the Russian Government and the Presidential Plenipotentiary Representative in the Far East, Yury Trutnev. It was during the days of the Trutnev governorship that Leviev privatized UralAlmaz, in addition, Trutnev supervised ALROS.
African diamonds and the war with De Beers
In 1997, Lev Leviev bought from the Israeli Leumi Bank a controlling stake in the investment holding Africa Israel Investment Ltd, created in 1934 by investors from South Africa in the territory of Mandatory Palestine. A few years before, as stated in the publication on the website of the Public Fund for Asian-European Studies, he had already started doing business in Africa, the historic estate of De Beers. Angola became the first point of serious efforts of Leviev, where in 1996, as Forbes writes, Leviev bought 16% of the country’s largest diamond mine for $ 60 million. Only shortly before the deal, this mine was repulsed by government forces of the then President of Angola, José Eduardo dos Santos, from the UNITA rebels. Leviev quickly established contacts with Dos Santos and soon received an exclusive right to buy Angolan diamonds – while De Beers sometimes had to buy stones from UNITA militants, which in 1998 led to the UN imposing sanctions on such purchases and the subsequent “certificates” Kimberly, designed to ensure that the money from the sale of stones will not go to finance military conflicts. Diamonds that do not have a “Kimberly certificate” were called “bloody”. Forbes and other media also reported similar Leviev projects in Namibia and the Congo, as well as in Kazakhstan. In addition, a business in Angola allowed Leviev to meet another prominent immigrant from the USSR to Israel, Arkady Gaydamak, who in 2009 was convicted in absentia by a French court of organizing illegal arms transfers to Angola from 1993 to 1998 and was sentenced to six years imprisonment, and also called the media as an active mediator in negotiations on the cancellation of public debt of Angola to the USSR. In a series of documentary films, investigations of the Dutch television channel Zembla, it was argued that Leviev did not disdain to buy those “blood diamonds”, and many of his real estate transactions were only part of the scheme for money laundering of “important people from Russia”. In addition, the authors of the investigation spoke of the brutal treatment of Leviev’s employees, the former Israeli “commandos” from the Mossad, hired by them to guard the diamond mines, with local residents and workers. Lev Leviev indignantly denies all such accusations.
Friend of Putin, Luzhkov and Trump
According to Rough and Polished, in 1998–2005, Leviev established diamond cutting enterprises in India, China, Armenia and Ukraine. Levaev was engaged not only in diamonds: as the Moscow News newspaper wrote in 2005, at that time dozens of companies engaged in construction, real estate, energy, tourism and clothing were part of his business empire. In Israel, Levaev bought the first Russian-language channel, Israel Plus (later, Channel 9), became the largest shareholder in the country’s first toll highway No. 6 and the owner of a network of petrol stations. But his significant interests were nevertheless concentrated in Russia: in 2001, he created Donkamill Holdings Limited to manage the Russian assets of his investment holding Africa Israel. In 2004, Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov called Leviev “the most desirable investor” in the Russian capital. In 2007, Donkamill Holdings Limited was renamed AFI Development. The first three letters in the title, referring to the Leviev’s African-Israeli company, are well known to many Muscovites: among the many AFI Development projects was the shopping center in the Moscow-City complex, which to this day is called Afimoll City. Leviev is well known in New York: in October 2007, he bought the former New York Times office building for $ 525 million here. Also in the US, Levaev owned nearly 200 7-11 convenience stores in New Mexico and Texas.
The name of Lev Leviev, who all this time did not stop supporting Orthodox Jews on the territory of the former USSR (spending up to $ 30 million per year, according to media reports), is also linked to the creation in 1999 of the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia in peak to the Russian Jewish Congress Vladimir Gusinsky. According to Rough and Polished, this became a “serious service” of the Kremlin administration, which shortly after the establishment of the FJR, Vladimir Putin occupied. The agency assumed that in exchange for this service, the Russian authorities gave the green light to Leviev’s development projects and gave him privileges in the sale of Russian diamonds. Surrounded by the entrepreneur, these rumors were categorically rejected.
Subsequently, Leviev called Putin “a wonderful president in regard to freedom of conscience.” According to Forbes, after Putin’s election to this post, Leviev helped him organize first meetings with major Israeli politicians and leaders of the American Jewish community.
The name of Lev Leviev was also mentioned in the American press in connection with the investigation of Russia’s attempts to influence the outcome of the US presidential election. True, these mentions do not indicate the involvement of a businessman in any illegal actions. According to the publication Politico, in 2007, Trump was actively seeking access to the Russian real estate market. To this end, he joined forces with the company Bayrock-Sapir, which was headed by immigrants from the USSR Tevfik Arif, Felix Sater and Tamir Sapir – all of them were closely associated with Lubavitcher Hassidism. In the same year, Trump organized the wedding of Sapir’s daughter and Levaev’s closest aide, which took place at his chic estate of the current American President Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach. A few months after the ceremony, Levaev met with Trump to discuss potential deals in Moscow, and then arranged for the first son to be circumcised. Trump attended the ceremony along with his future son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who later bought 5 floors from Africa Israel Investments Levaev in the above-mentioned building of the former New York Times. As the British newspaper The Guardian wrote in the summer of 2017, this deal came to the attention of Special Prosecutor Muller, as Kushner later borrowed $ 285 million to refinance her at Deutsche Bank, “who participated in Russian money laundering scandals and whose loans to Trump are under tight control “.
Donald Trump and Lev Leviev:
AFI Investments was also a partner of Prevezon Holdings, the owner of which is Denis Katsyv, son of Russian Railways Vice President Peter Katsyva. In 2013, US authorities accused the company of money laundering, lawyer Sergei Magnitsky paid for the disclosure of the theft from the Russian budget. The charges were brought on the basis of the “Magnitsky Act”, adopted in the United States a year earlier. In the US Department of Justice documents of the agreement under which Prevezon Holdings paid $ 6 million to the US authorities in May 2017 in exchange for the dismissal, AFI Europe, allegedly related to Leviev, is mentioned as a debtor to Prevezon.
Sunset of the empire
Nevertheless, as Emil Shleymovich, editor-in-chief of the Israeli edition of Detti, says in an interview with Radio Liberty, the case of smuggling diamonds by people of Leviev should not be linked to politics, but to the routine work of local law enforcement agencies to restore order in this very opaque industry. Now, the former state of Leviev, which severely knocked down the world financial crisis of 2008 first, and then the crisis in Russia after the start of the Russian-Ukrainian war and the imposition of sanctions, left half at best (with heavily grown debts to Russian banks that AFI Investments is trying to restructure). The net loss of AFI Development in 2017 increased by more than 2.5 times – from $ 20.7 million in 2015 to 55.7 million. The revenue of the Afimoll City shopping and entertainment center, which is considered the company’s flagship project, decreased by 12%.
“Forbes in 2018 estimates his fortune as a billion, but we are accustomed to the fact that Forbes estimates are quite often underestimated. Generally, they say that the diamond business is not the largest part of his empire for a long time, it slowly began to move away from it. The diamond business flourished in the 1990s, when Levayev was indeed one of the five largest diamantotors, a man who was able to challenge the De Beers syndicate, but the fact is that, firstly, the diamond industry in Israel last time is in recession and recession means Israel in this field is crowding Dubai, restricting India, solely because of a more favorable tax climate, and even Belgium: At one time, Israel seized Antwerp’s right to be called the main Diamond Bourse of the world precisely because it created more favorable tax conditions Now in Israel these conditions are becoming tougher, in Belgium, on the contrary, they reconsidered their mistake, as a result, the export of polished diamonds from Israel is falling, and falling quite seriously. As for Leviev himself, he, too, has been in trouble lately. First, he slowly quits the diamond business, leaving him, apparently, to his family. In Israel, he has very serious assets – this is a financial company, this is a development, and this, of course, is a construction business. At its peak, the company Africa Israel, which was once bought by him, cost about 28 billion shekels, at the then rate it is about 6.5 billion dollars. But lately, the financial structure of Leviev, which has been lined up for many years through emissions, through partial sales of shares, and so on, has fallen down.
Recently, the financial structure of Levaev “fell down”
In 2008, against the background of the financial crisis, Leviev had a huge debt of about 8 billion shekels, or about $ 2 billion. He was very actively engaged in its restructuring, actively repaying it and, if I’m not mistaken, brought the total debt to 3 billion shekels, that is, less than 1 billion dollars. But then the economic crisis began in Russia, which crippled his company AFI Development, prevented the next distribution of dividends, and there again problems arose from which he could not get out for a long time. Recently there have been publications in Israel that, most likely, Leviev will leave Africa Israel altogether, curtail this whole business, but we don’t know his future plans for life – maybe he would prefer to give up everything and live quietly for himself further in the UK (Leviev moved to London from Israel in 2007, now, according to unconfirmed reports, he resides in Russia. – Comm. RS). Because it is already clear that he and the whole family will have enough money. ”
Image: Putin, Leviev, Trump (collage)
Written by: Mark Krutov (Марк Крутов)