The Rabbi, the President and the diamond dealers


A High Court judge will consider a billion-dollar question tomorrow involving prominent Israelis, the Chief Rabbi of Russia and the Angolan government.

Mr Justice Vos must decide whether the Israeli-Russian businessman Arkady Gaydamak is, as he claims, owed $1bn (£640m) by his former associate Lev Leviev for a lucrative diamond venture.

He has heard evidence from witnesses including former Mossad agents, an Israeli war hero, the Angolan President, several senior rabbis and Belgian diamond dealers.

He has heard claims about forged and missing documents and about double agents. The case centres on profits from the Angola diamond industry and an agreement Mr Gaydamak insists he and Mr Leviev signed 11 years ago.

Under this agreement Mr Leviev was to hold Mr Gaydamak’s share and income from the Angolan Diamond Selling Corporation, paying him regular dividends which stopped suddenly in 2005.

Mr Leviev insists no such deal was reached and that the document they had signed was simply an agreement that Mr Gaydamak would donate to a charity that he, Mr Leviev, had set up.

Mr Gaydamak says the document was entrusted to the care of the Chief Rabbi of Russia, Berel Lazar. Rabbi Lazar says he cannot find it, but has admitted on Israeli TV that he received a document for safekeeping.

A second dispute centres on another contract signed by both men in Angola last August, in which Mr Leviev says Mr Gaydamak agreed to give up all his claims without payment. It was after this disclaimer that Mr Gaydamak lodged his court case, Mr Leviev says. Mr Gaydamak insists the timing of the High Court claim stems mainly from his recent acquittal in France for arms dealing.

He alleges that one of the most powerful men in Angola, General Manuel Helder Vieira Dias Júnior, known as Kopelipa, working with Mr Leviev, duped him into signing the agreement, which includes a gagging clause protecting the Angolan government.

Mr Gaydamak claims this contract would have been activated only after he was paid hundreds of millions of pounds in compensation that Mr Leviev apparently promised through General Kopelipa.

A judgment is expected this year.