Betar owner sets sights on Knesset seat

Russian-Israeli businessman Arkady Gaydamak, already owner of the Betar Jerusalem soccer club and the Hapoel Jerusalem basketball team, is suiting up for an even more challenging goal: recruiting people to join a new political party he intends to establish and lead in the upcoming Knesset elections, he told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday. Gaydamak told the Post that he believed he was sufficiently qualified to serve in the Knesset. Considered one of the wealthiest men in Israel, Gaydamak was questioned twice this week by investigators from the Serious and International Crimes Unit (SICU) regarding suspicions he was involved in a massive money-laundering scandal at Bank Hapoalim. "I think I can provide society my experience as an economic manager and as a leader of different social and philanthropic activities," Gaydamak said. "People should make their choice in accordance with the concrete results. [Just] look at me and what I have done." While refusing to reveal names of public figures he was in touch with regarding the political party, Gaydamak, who recently became head of the Betar World Movement and has a picture of Ze'ev Jabotinsky in his posh Ramat Gan offices, said he was in touch with a "few good people." "I know many responsible people that will probably join me if we will create a political movement," he said. "It is a big responsibility and there are people that I have an opinion about if they have all the qualities to work in our group and to defend and promote our interests." During the interview, the 53-year-old father of three also spoke about the police investigation against him. Police are investigating the source of a $50 million transfer that was made into bank accounts owned by Gaydamak at the Bank Hapoalim Hayarkon branch, which is under investigation for allegedly facilitating money-laundering services for foreign and Israeli businessmen. Gaydamak rejected the charges, claiming his money was obtained legally and was not laundered. "Show me somebody who will tell [you] that the origins of the money are not clean and that something is wrong," he demanded. "Show me what I did wrong." Describing his interrogation experience, Gaydamak said he felt like he was talking to businessmen and not police officers. He also said that he did not suspect the police of being influenced or motivated by politicians who do not want to see him in the next Knesset. "It is the police's job to investigate and it is normal to question and clarify," he said. "After the first conversation [with the police] I felt we were speaking like some kind of discussion between business people. They asked questions about the internal life of industrial businesses and I replied."