Who was telling the truth in $1bn diamond trial? No one…

Judge attacks Gaydamak and Leviev in a case that laid bare the 'lawlessness'

After an extraordinary case with a plotline and cast list suitable for a John Le Carre novel, a Russian-Israeli multi-millionaire emerged yesterday as the loser in a $1 billion claim against a rival dubbed the “King of Diamonds” following a bitter dispute over a mining venture in Angola.

Arkady Gaydamak, 60, – who brought the case in London despite being a fugitive from justice in Israel – was told he had signed away his rights to the business after a long-running and tumultuous relationship with Israeli businessman Lev Leviev.

Uzbekistan-born Mr Leviev – who has a £35m house in Hampstead, north London - made his vast wealth from four decades as an internationally-renowned diamond trader. The case shone a light on how a handful of foreign players have made fortunes from exploiting Africa’s natural resources.

The dispute centred on a contract allegedly drawn up between the two men designed to share the proceeds of a the mining venture set up during Angola’s civil war – but was lost or shredded after it was handed over to Russia’s chief rabbi for supposed safe-keeping.

In a sometime damning judgement, High Court Judge Mr Justice Vos cast doubt on the word of both men, criticising Mr Leviev, 55, for re-writing history and arrogance and saying that Mr Gaydamak’s evidence could not be relied on.

“I did not find him a reliable witness. He was rather garrulous and unstructured in his answers … He could certainly not be relied upon as regards the details of his evidence,” he said in the 70-page written judgement.

The dispute grew out of Angola’s long-running civil war when the government was trying to wrest control of blood diamonds that Unita rebels were using to fund their cause. Mr Gaydamak supplied arms to the Angolan leadership and also security services, run by a former head of Israel’s intelligence agency Mossad.

Mr Gaydamak, the father of former Portsmouth FC owner Sacha Gaydamak, said he signed an agreement in 2001 for Mr Leviev to act as his “front-man” for a venture in the world’s fifth largest diamond producer. He said that he was seeking a lower-profile after an international warrant was sought for his arrest during an inquiry by the French into kickbacks and illegal arms deals with Angola.

He had sought to split the proceeds 50-50 with Mr Leviev and had been due about $3 million a month but had received nothing since 2004. Mr Leviev said that no deal had been signed and a settlement was agreed in 2011, which ended their dispute.

In his ruling yesterday, Mr Justice Vos cast doubt on Mr Leviev’s claims that no deal had been signed. “I did not find Mr Leviev an entirely reliable witness. He displayed an arrogance, even a contempt, for Mr Gaydamak, which ill-became him since he had been so closely involved with him in 1999 and 2000.”

He added: “I think his denial of any partnership arrangement of any kind was simply implausible and frankly unbelievable.”

However, he said that Mr Gaydamak’s responses showed the “lawless” nature of his dealings in Angola before the 2001 deal.

The case is the latest series of complex business disputes brought to London by billionaires from Russia and the former Soviet states. Mr Gaydamak gave evidence via video link from Israel because he feared arrest on a European Arrest Warrant after he was sentenced in France to 36 months in jail for money laundering and tax evasion.

Mr Justice Vos said that the deal signed in 2011 – in the presence of General Kopelipa, ostensibly the prime minister of  Angola - effectively settled their dispute and dismissed the claim.

In a statement after the ruling, Mr Gaydamak announced his intention to appeal. “I have said all along that I was bamboozled into signing” the agreement, he said.

In a statement from his solicitors, Mr Leviev was said to be “obviously very pleased with this outcome.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Systems and Network Support Analyst

£26000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client is a rapidly expandi...

Recruitment Genius: IT Systems Support Analyst

£20000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client is a rapidly expandi...

Recruitment Genius: Business Travel Consultant

£20000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: With offices in London, Manches...

Recruitment Genius: Stock Broker / Trainee Broker / Closer - OTE £250,000

£30000 - £250000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Stock Broker/ Trainee FX, Stoc...

Day In a Page

Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent
Markus Persson: If being that rich is so bad, why not just give it all away?

That's a bit rich

The billionaire inventor of computer game Minecraft says he is bored, lonely and isolated by his vast wealth. If it’s that bad, says Simon Kelner, why not just give it all away?
Euro 2016: Chris Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

Wales last qualified for major tournament in 1958 but after several near misses the current crop can book place at Euro 2016 and end all the indifference
Rugby World Cup 2015: The tournament's forgotten XV

Forgotten XV of the rugby World Cup

Now the squads are out, Chris Hewett picks a side of stars who missed the cut
A groundbreaking study of 'Britain's Atlantis' long buried at the bottom of the North Sea could revolutionise how we see our prehistoric past

Britain's Atlantis

Scientific study beneath North Sea could revolutionise how we see the past
The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember,' says Starkey

The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember'

David Starkey's assessment
Oliver Sacks said his life has been 'an enormous privilege and adventure'

'An enormous privilege and adventure'

Oliver Sacks writing about his life
'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

The Rock's Chief Minister hits back at Spanish government's 'lies'
Britain is still addicted to 'dirty coal'

Britain still addicted to 'dirty' coal

Biggest energy suppliers are more dependent on fossil fuel than a decade ago
Orthorexia nervosa: How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition

Orthorexia nervosa

How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition
Lady Chatterley is not obscene, says TV director

Lady Chatterley’s Lover

Director Jed Mercurio on why DH Lawrence's novel 'is not an obscene story'
Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests

Set a pest to catch a pest

Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests