The Russian-born tycoon Arkadi Gaydamak was on the brink of breaking into Israeli politics in a high-profile intervention that could strengthen the right wing and capitalise on public disillusionment with the governing establishment.
Aides to Mr Gaydamak, a Moscow-born billionaire who has presented himself as an "Israeli Ross Perot", said he would hold a news conference in Tel Aviv this afternoon and asserted reports that he intended to form a new party were true.
But the tycoon, who is best known among Israeli electors for being the owner of Beitar Jerusalem, one of the country's leading football clubs, and for a series of flamboyant gestures, remained enigmatic about his exact plans. He told the Ynet news service that he did not himself intend to stand for membership of the Knesset. Instead, he is likely to control the party from outside parliament.
During the Lebanon war last summer he paid about £7m to house northerners seeking refuge from the Katyusha rockets in two "tent cities" on the Mediterranean coast. And in November he funded a week-long trip to the Red Sea resort for residents of Sderot, the Israeli town worst affected by Qassam rockets from Gaza.
The financier has forged close links with Benjamin Netanyahu, a former prime minister and the leader of the right-wing Likud opposition, which has been growing in popularity since the end of the war in Lebanon.
According to Ha'aretz newspaper, Mr Gaydamak has decided on the basis of a series of private opinion polls that his party, which would confine itself to a social and economic platform, could secure up to 25 of the Knesset's 120 seats.
His personal poll ratings have risen during a crisis of public confidence in mainstream politics as well as in the government of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. In the latest of a series of highly publicised problems, Mr Olmert's Interior Minister, Avi Dichter, is facing difficulties in replacing the police chief, Moshe Karadi, who resigned after being severely criticised over the investigation of the murder, allegedly by a policeman, of a suspected crime boss.
His chosen replacement, the current prisons chief, Yaakov Ganot, has been opposed because he himself was indicted 13 years ago on fraud and bribery charges. Although the Supreme Court acquitted Mr Ganot, it also criticised him.
Rather than seeking office, Mr Gaydamak is thought to want to confine the party's platform to social and economic affairs, and to form an alliance with Likud. Mr Netanyahu was the star guest at a lavish Hannukah party in Tel Aviv where guests were entertained by the pop singer Enrique Iglesias. Mr Gaidamak saaid: "Olmert is a professional politician and he should definitely... be concerned about a man shown in opinion polls to be popular among the electorate. It appears that the political system is in a predicament and my conduct is received well by the public."
Mr Gaydamak built his fortune on oil deals and the Russian stock market after emigrating from the Soviet Union in 1972. Mr Gaydamak, whose son, Alexandre, owns Portsmouth football club, is thought to be trying to reach beyond Russian-speaking voters to other Israelis, including Arabs.Reuse content