Lev Leviev, the Russian-Israeli oligarch who rose from humble beginnings in Tashkent to become one Israel’s most powerful diamond merchants and real estate developers, in allegedly under investigation in both Israel and the UK for smuggling blood diamonds from his African mines to Russia and subsequently to Israel. According to Israeli media reports, hundreds of millions worth of such diamonds were excavated in African mines and found their way to Israel over a six-year period. Leviev is accused of paying up to twenty couriers to attempt to smuggle the valuables into Israel without declaring them to customs. Among the charges against him are money-laundering, bribery, tax fraud, falsification of corporate documents, and others.
There is a gag order prohibiting publication of the identity of the state’s witness who broke open the case. Although some Israeli media have also refrained from naming Leviev as the chief suspect, News1 has done so, though it too has not named the informant. What News1 has reported would appear to violate the gag order, though its article remains available on the website. UPDATE: The gag order has just been lifted and Maariv is reporting Leviev’s identity in connection with the case.
Over the past year, Leviev’s once formidable empire has come crashing to earth. In an attempt to save it, it appears he may have resorted to trying to raise capital through selling the diamonds on the black market. His scheme collapsed and he has already lost his real estate empire, which was sold at fire sale prices to real estate investor, Moti Ben Moshe.
The Israeli media portal, Walla!, reports that Leviev’s brother and son are among a total of six suspects arrested by Israeli police. Wikipedia reports that Leviev has a son named Joshua. An earlier report by News 1, declares that UK authorities are also investigating the case, which makes it international in scope. This report declares that when Leviev got wind of the UK investigation he fled the country and currently is in Russia, placing him beyond the reach of either countries’ police authorities.
I’ve reached out to Britain’s National Crime Agency shortly after the News1 story broke and asked whether it was conducting an investigation. The communications staff did not reply. I’ve sent another message today and hope for some response from them. I will update this post if/when they do.
This story is important not just because of Leviev’s former stature as an international business figure spanning Africa, Russia, Britain and Israel; it’s also important because of Leviev’s role in expanding Israeli settlements and bedecking Hollywood celebrities for years in magnificent baubles, whose origins were not always transparent.
Leviev once owned Africa-Israel Development, which built settlements and also owned premium real estate in New York and other cities around the globe. He even once owned the Plaza Hotel and also bought the former New York Times building. His partner in this transaction was none other than Jared Kushner and his father’s real estate company. The Guardian reports that some of the funds used by Leviev’s business partners in this transaction may have originated in the $250-million Russian theft which Sergei Magnitsky was investigating when he was arrested and subsequently died in a Russian prison.
Leviev often overspent wildly for such prestige properties and had trouble meeting obligations to his lenders. Finally, his profligacy caught up to him and AFI collapsed.
His former company is also suspected of making dubious land deals – where real estate was purchased in Russia and Ukraine at inflated prices. A portion of the inflated price paid to the owner was funneled to Leviev himself, meaning he was defrauding his own company. His departure from the UK led directly to his resignation from the management of AFI. This is the latest News1 report on this story.
During his heyday, Leviev was the largest donor to the Chabad movement, which had once expelled Russia’s then-chief rabbi from his position and installed a Chabad rabbi in his stead. The new rabbi was a favorite of the Kremlin and had Putin’s blessing. This brought Leviev into close contact with Putin and made him a confidant of the powerful Russian leader. Leviev was also known to have close business relationships with other Russian Jewish oligarchs like Roman Abramovich. Both men lived in Britain. Leviev himself once owned the most expensive home in the entire UK, which he purchased for $70-million.
However, both figures have fallen out of favor since Russian intelligence agents attempted to assassinate a former KGB agent in a British provincial town, leading to an international scandal, which embarrassed both the Russians and the British government. Recently British officials refused to renew Abramovich’s residency permit, which forced him to turn to Israel, where he was offered immediate citizenship under the Law of Return. There are a number of prominent Russian Jewish oligarchs who’ve taken up residence in Israel, using it as a second base of operations. Among them, Leonid Nevzlin, a major investor in Haaretz; and Piotr Aven, who runs the Genesis Prize on Nevzlin’s behalf. Arkady Gadaymak is another oligarch who once owned Jerusalem’s infamous racist soccer club, Beitar Jerusalem.
Fast Lane says
I don’t believe that Leviev ever traded in ‘blood diamonds’.
Many years ago, Leviev did help the government of Angola break the DeBeers diamond cartel in Angola.
There was a civil war in Angola, and Leviev dealt with the Angolan government, not the rebels and the smugglers.
‘Blood diamonds’, or ‘conflict diamonds’, are defined by the United Nations as “diamonds that originate from areas controlled by forces or factions opposed to legitimate and internationally recognised governments, and are used to fund military action in opposition to those governments, or in contravention of the decisions of the Security Council.”
You really should offer more substantial proof before making such an awful accusation.
Richard Silverstein says
@Fast Lane: I didn’t make this charge up. It’s included in the Israeli reporting to which i linked. If you know Hebrew you’re extremely sloppy for not reading the reports. If you don’t, use Google Translate which would’ve shown you the reference.
All Israeli oligarchs in Africa deal in blood diamonds or worse. Attempting to defend them is lame and morally bankrupt.
All Israeli oligarchs in Africa deal in blood diamonds or worse…
Any person who make such broad generalization cannot be taken seriously. It a simple sign for propaganda.
Richard Silverstein says
@ Jen: Israeli blood diamond merchants all:
My claims are more than borne out by media and NGO reports on this evil phenomenon. Israeli oligarchs not only mine the blood diamonds, they fuel civil wars in Africa in doing it, and offers billions in bribes to corrupt dictators to protect their interests. It’s a sordid, rotten business, which you defend. Shameful.
I’m not defending anyone.
Just calling you out about your generalizations when it comes to Israelis. You excel at taking rotten apples and presenting them as the majority. Do you know how many Israelis are doing business in Africa? THOUSANDS! Do they all deal in blood diamonds? Your answer is YES.
Richard Silverstein says
@ Jen: I don’t generalize about Israelis unless those generalizations are grounded in fact. Nor did I generalize about all Israelis. The Israeli oligarchs’ thieving and corruption regarding blood diamonds is well-documented.
No, in fact this is what I actually wrote (and you quoted this in your earlier comment):
I did not say all Israelis in African deal in blood diamonds. I said that the Israelis oligarchs in Africa deal in blood diamonds. Can you prove that wrong?
Do not EVER mischaracterize my views. Ever. I mean that. Be very careful how you characterize what I say. If you distort or misstate my views I will come down on you like a ton of bricks.
Fast Lane says
Neither of the links you provided identify Leviev as a trader in blood diamonds.
The Maariv (Heb.) article you linked doesn’t say Leviev trading in blood diamonds.
More to the point, ten years ago, when you wrote a piece about Leviev, you didn’t accuse him of trading in blood diamonds. You said, ” These diamonds aren’t quite blood diamonds, but they’re pretty damn close.
So what’s changed, Richard? Please cite a source, in English, that Leviev trades in blood diamonds.
Richard Silverstein says
@ Fast Lane: Here’s a rule you violated: read EVERY LINK in the post. Not just the ones convenient to your argument. If you do you will find the article which says he traded in blood diamonds. You also should know better than to question me when I state something as a fact. If I said he traded in blood diamond you can bet I have a source and linked to it.
Other articles (than the one to which I linked) associating Leviev with blood diamonds:
Do not comment further in this thread.
“During his heyday, Leviev was the largest donor to the Chabad movement, which had once expelled Russia’s then-chief rabbi from his position and installed a Chabad rabbi in his stead.”
I wish the Failed Messiah blog was still running; S. Rosenberg would find all of this endlessly hilarious because Chabad was/is shot through with dubious donors either trying to throw their weight around or wash their blood money clean, and with Leviev you have both.
The element I find interesting is Lev Leviev’s attempts to cosy up to Putin and Netanyahu at the same time when Benny is on thin ice and Uncle Vova’s regime of corruption might collapse at any time now because he is definitely beyond his “sell by” date. We are at the edge of a precipice right now both economically and politically on a global level and yet we act like the norm will continue (which it will not.) Leviev can run away to a dacha on the outskirts of Moscow, the rest of us cannot.
Lev Leviev moved to Israel from Uzbekistan in 1971, when he was 15 years old. He served in IDF and learned his trade in Israel. He is not a Russian citizen, he is Israeli. He lives in Britain and has a house in Florida, which are not parts of Russia. So describing him as a Russian is not exactly a fact, more a fake “fact”. Surely he has connections to Russia and maybe even to the state elite (and certainly to the Russian mafia), but he has more connections to Israeli elite and to “those” controlling the wold’s diamond trade..
I believe you are confusing Leviev with Itzhak Tshuva with regards to the Plaza hotel. Leviev bought an appartment in the hotel from Tshuva.
Richard Silverstein says
@ mikizo: Whoops, thanks for correcting that error!
Blood Diamonds: Corruption and Torture in Angola by Rafael Marques de Morais
Days before Sodiam came into formal existence, on October 11, 1999, the Angolan government formalized an agreement with the companies Group Goldberg, Leviev Wellox and Trans Africa Investment Services (TAIS) for the creation of a joint-venture diamond trading company, known as Angola Selling Corporation (Ascorp). The three companies represented, respectively, the interests of international diamond traders Sylvain Goldberg and Lev Leviev, as well as Isabel dos Santos, the eldest daughter of president José Eduardo dos Santos.
Isabel dos Santos: The Fall of Africa’s Richest Woman | Maka Angola – July 23, 2018 |
From an event in Dec. 2007 …
Dershy’s dirty diamond dance
Living by the Leviev Method | Haaretz – June 2004 |