Gaydamak retracts threats to pull funds

Russian billionaire questioned by police for alleged money laundering.

gaydamak in shades 298.8 (photo credit: Channel 2)
gaydamak in shades 298.8
(photo credit: Channel 2)
After a tumultuous day filled with a police interrogation and threats to leave Israel and pull his money out of the Betar Jerusalem soccer club, Israeli-Russian billionaire Arkady Gaydamak announced on Wednesday that he planned to stay in Israel and continue contributing to worthwhile Israeli charities and causes. "I'm an Israeli and I'll stay in Israel," Gaydamak told reporters during a press conference at his Ramat Gan offices Wednesday afternoon an hour after wrapping up a police interrogation. "I live here, my children live here and this is my country. Nobody will drive me out." Gaydamak threatened to pull out his money from the country after reading a Maariv report Wednesday morning according to which the Israel Police warned the Jewish Agency not to accept a $50 million donation from the Russian philanthropist and suspected money-launderer. Gaydamak's public relations team issued a statement that the billionaire was withdrawing all of his investments from Israeli businesses, and ceasing his support of cultural institutions until the police completed their investigation into his financial dealings. Gaydamak has been questioned four times regarding allegations he was involved in last year's major Bank Hapoalim money-laundering scandal. Police are investigating the source of $50 million he transferred into the bank to determine if the money was obtained illegally and was laundered through Bank Hapoalim. "Mr. Arkady Gaydamak turned to all of the institutions and organizations he has supported over the past 15 years in Israel and abroad and asked them to present permits from the appropriate authorities that his donations came from legal funds," the statement read. "If they will not be able to present these permits then Mr. Gaydamak asks to prevent harming these organizations and their reputations and would like to have all of his donations returned to him." But at his afternoon press conference, Gaydamak, who attained stardom in the summer after purchasing the Betar soccer team and the Hapoel Jerusalem basketball team, said he would continue investing in Israel. Gaydamak said he changed his mind after police assured him they were not behind the Maariv report and that it was factually wrong. Earlier in the day, Gaydamak was questioned under warning for several hours by investigators from the police's Serious and International Crimes Unit regarding the money laundering allegations against him. Police said Gaydamak answered most of their questions and that there was a good chance he would be questioned again in the near future. For Gaydamak, Wednesday's Maariv report was just the latest in a long list of media reports he said were politically-motivated. Last month, Gaydamak accused the media of spreading rumors after newspaper reports surfaced that senior police officers had discussed his case with French authorities. Another disappointment came Saturday night after only two Knesset Members showed up at a massive New Year's bash he threw in Tel Aviv. The number of attendees was also far less than the number of people he invited. Gaydamak said he was fed up with the way the police manipulated the media and spread rumors and lies about him and their investigation. "I don't understand why I get treated this way," he told reporters. "I know I've done nothing wrong and I've never been prosecuted…I asked you to come here today because I have nothing to hide. I know I've done no wrong." Just a few weeks ago, the wealthy businessman revealed he intended to form a new political party, however the initiative stalled the following day after police launched their investigation. Gaydamak earned a reputation as a major philanthropist and has donated tens of millions of dollars to charities such as Marom Le'Adam, and causes such as lone IDF soldiers. Gaydamak is also the honorary president of World Betar, as well as president of the Congress of Jewish Communities in Russia. He reportedly made his fortune in the diamond and arms industry, although an exact assessment of his wealth has never been released. Allon Sinai contributed to the report.