Businessman Arcadi Gaydamak returned to Israel on Thursday after nearly two years out of the country, the Hebrew daily Ma’ariv reported. According to the report, Gaydamak returned in order to face trial for money laundering of 650 million shekels.
The trial is set to begin in a Tel Aviv court next Wednesday, when the indictment will be read to Gaydamak and the other parties who are accused in the case.
Gaydamak took Israel by storm when he purchased soccer team Beitar Jerusalem in 2005. He then went on to make a series of acquisitions which included a local radio station in the Sharon region and the Bikur Cholim Hospital in Jerusalem which has recently been the object of financial investigation. He even launched a political movement named Social Justice and in 2008 ran for mayor of Jerusalem, receiving only 3.6 per cent of the votes.
He was known for helping out the children of Sderot when the city was faced with daily attacks by terrorists, including paying the tab for 200 Sderot teens to take a break from the attacks at hotels outside the western Negev city. He initiated similar programs for families in northern Israel during the 2006 Second Lebanon War.
Although he came to Israel as a billionaire, he announced just before he left the country in 2008 that his financial situation was difficult and that he had lost large amounts of money. In October of 2009, Gaydamak was convicted by a French court of the illegal sale of massive amounts of arms to Angola in the 1990s during its prolonged civil war. Gaydamak was accused of acting as a primary go-between in illegal arms sales amounting to $790 million and was sentenced to six years in prison.
Gaydamak’s return to Israel is considered surprising by many, especially due to his conviction in France. Since Israel and France have an extradition treaty, Gaydamak could very well be extradited to France. According to the report in Ma’ariv, even Gaydamak’s lawyers were not aware of the fact that he was planning to return to Israel, and they do not know his exact location, as he is apparently in hiding.