Anonymous Letters (Below) Re: Gaydamak v. Leviev May Call into Question the Ownership of Some of Manhattan’s Most Iconic Buildings and the Rialto?
Lost Messiah, July 15, 2016
Since our article regarding the dispute between Arkady Gaydamak and Lev Leviev, we have received countless emails. Gaydamak v. Leviev may perhaps only be relevant insofar as Gaydamak may, in our view, have legal or equitable rights to partial ownership of buildings in Manhattan in which Leviev has or had an ownership interest, whether on his own behalf or through Africa Israel. These emails have addressed a multitude of questions and theories primarily referring to the interests of Leviev in New York/San Francisco (116 New Montgomery Street) Singapore, Israel and Angola. We have maintained that New York is rife with elicit diamonds, a form of currency, easily hidden and apparently in our opinion easily smuggled. We think this ongoing battle between two diamond magnates may provide us with some direction.
We have questioned the place of China Sonangol and the 88 Queensway Group, both of which appear to share commonality with Lev Leviev and/or Africa Israel. We have raised the issue of Sam Pa and his fairly significant business presence in the US, despite being on a list of people forbidden from either entering or doing business with the United States.
It was not until mention of Arkady Gaydamak and his ongoing litigation against Leviev and Rabbi Berel Lazar, Angola’s Kopelipa and other partners past and present that we were flooded with emails which may substantiate our concerns about ownership interests in the United States.
FailedMessiah picked up the Gaydamak /Leviev stories over the years. Other newspapers, law journals, legal resources, courts have followed the lawsuits. Many news sources, including the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists “ICIJ”, which now holds links to the Panama Papers, published an in-depth article on Gaydamak entitled “The Influence Peddlers” in 2001. https://www.icij.org/project/making-killing/influence-peddlers . Reading that article calls into question many of the allegations and historical references cited historically in newspapers.
The underlying basis threaded through the lawsuits is as follows: Arcady Gaydamak claims ownership rights to one-half of any and all monies and profits yielded from assets and corporate ownership interests that Leviev was to have held in trust for Gaydamak from 2001. That one-half was to have been trust proceeds held by Leviev on behalf of Gaydamak. Leviev, in contrast claims that there was no such trust agreement and were one to have existed, it was nullified by a later signed 2011 Settlement Agreement.
Leviev at first denied the existence of the trust. He later claimed that a settlement agreement signed in 2011 nullified the trust and any rights Gaydamak may have had in it or the proceeds thereof.
As an historical framework, Gaydamak has always maintained a trust was signed in 2001 by and among Leviev and Gaydamak and other parties, wherein it was agreed that Leviev would hold Gaydamak ‘s shared interests in joint holdings in Trust for Gaydamak . At the time they were partners. As the story goes, Gaydamak was involved in legal matters and ownership over those assets and interests could have been problematic for him. Leviev allegedly agreed to hold those assets and pay Gaydamak proceeds therefrom until such time as Gaydamak could take possession. Leviev claimed that no such trust existed.
The signed Trust Agreement was, by Gaydamak ‘s accounts, to be held by the Chief Rabbi of Russia, Rabbi Berel Lazar who is currently a rabbi in Israel. In effect, Leviev was the Trustee, Gaydamak the Trust Beneficiary and Lazar the trustworthy witness, loosely defining the word “trust.” Like Leviev, Rabbi Lazar initially denied the existence of the trust and later, as the cases went on, stated that he had lost the document and could not remember what it said. There have been varying stories and accounts floating around, one more bizarre than the next.
Nevertheless, payments supposedly in accordance with the 2001 Trust Agreement, (though non-existent) were made to Gaydamak and continued from 2001 until 2005 when they abruptly ceased, without explanation (at least explanation to be found). The payments themselves in our view would have immediately given rise to questions of the sincerity of Leviev’s claims that no such Trust Agreement existed. While it took a few tries, the courts in London agreed.
It would appear that between 2005 and 2010 Gaydamak, dealing with other legal matters, made efforts to continue to collect as promised under the Trust Agreement to no avail. Then while in Angola in 2011 Gaydamak apparently signed an agreement, the nature of which has yet to be settled, despite rulings by the court not favorable to Gaydamak’s position. Leviev claims that the settlement agreement was in full and final settlement of any disputes between the two men. In contrast, Gaydamak claims that the Settlement Agreement was signed under coercion and duress and is therefore invalid. Even were it to be deemed valid, separate agreements Gadamak may have had with parties independently of Leviev were neither part of the initial trust, nor were they settled by the Settlement Agreement.
Whether or not it should have been deemed a settlement agreement, ceasing all underlying disputes and Gaydamak ‘s forfeiture of any and all rights under the trust is in our mind questionable, though the Courts over the years have looked to the Settlement Agreement as a resolution between the parties. As we see it the decisions in the different lawsuits are based upon a variety of conclusions, each using a select group of facts to come to a determination. Insofar as Gaydamak may still have interests in the Trust, the courts have to date ruled against him. Insofar as Gaydamak may still have interests in assets in the United States, by our mind may yet have to be litigated.
If one were to hold that the Settlement Agreement was indeed valid, we question he consideration Gaydamak was given in exchange for forfeiture of assets worth billions. Over the years, Gaydamak has claimed that he was promised payment in exchange for the signing of the Settlement Agreement (which makes sense) and could be deemed consideration. Leviev (and Kopelipa who delivered the Settlement Agreement) have denied those allegations.
Gaydamak has maintained that he was coerced into signing the agreement, also sensible given that it was Kopelipa who personally delivered the Settlement Agreement (and may have been involved in its negotiations without Gaydamak ‘s presence). It is difficult to tell because it appears that as far as Gaydamak was concerned, the Settlement Agreement was a take-it-or-leave-it document.
Kopelipa, for his part, could be the source of an encyclopedia of Angolan shady characters, and is a defendant in several of Gaydamak ‘s lawsuits.
Leviev and Kopelipa have maintained that Gaydamak was promised escape from Angola sans extradition to France (for charges against him ranging from money laundering to arms dealing) and that is all he was promised. Gaydamak has denied that position and has always held to the contention that even were this to have been true, it is a form of coercion, particularly since Kopelipa effectively had the power to make Gaydamak disappear without a trace. Thinking in those terms, Gaydamak has claimed that the Settlement Agreement was not a voluntarily signed document and is therefore null and void. Alternatively, if it was signed and is valid, he was given no consideration, to which he was entitled.
For our purposes, if Gaydamak ‘s claims are correct, how far would his grasp extend with regard to United States real estate? If Gaydamak’s claims are finally exhausted unfavorably in all courts, does he hold any retained interests in properties purchased by Leviev and/or Africa-Israel outside of assets held by Leviev in trust. In other words could Gaydamak have rights to real estate purchases made by Lev Leviev, through Africa Israel – USA, in connection with somewhat nebulous interests in 88 Queensway Group, China Sonangol or other related entities? Is it possible that these are or were partially owned by Gaydamak?
Consider the following questions:
- If there had been no Trust Agreement in 2001, as initially alleged by Leviev, then why was he making payment to Gaydamak until 2005?
- Why did the payments to Gaydamak abruptly cease in 2005?
- If there was no Trust Agreement then why the need for a Settlement Agreement? The Courts in London picked up on this point and concluded that there was a Trust Agreement (the contents of which were then disputed).
- What was the consideration for the signing of the Settlement Agreement if one was legally signed? This has been an underlying theme throughout all of the Court documents.
- If Gaydamak were to be victorious in his lawsuits, for which the largest claim had been $1Bn dollars, would he then have an ownership stake in buildings owned past and present by Africa Israel?
- What is China Sonangol’s role in the ongoing Gaydamak /Leviev Saga?
- What is the 88 Queensway Group’s place in the ongoing disputes?
- Since the Settlement Agreement did not contain a provision limiting it to the Courts of London, could Gaydamak not make a case in the US Courts for partial ownership of the buildings once or currently owned and/or operated by Lev Leviev either individually or on behalf of Africa Israel and/or other related entities?
- What is the role of Jona Rechnitz in all of this? He worked for Lev Leviev and presumably must have known at least some of the details of the lawsuits.
We have received a series of documents, some of which we plan to publish immediately and some of which will require further analysis and review. We are not certain of the sources of the emails, though there is reason to believe they are legitimate. We are also not certain if they are complete.
We are publishing them because they raise questions about stories we have been covering; they may have relevance to the current corruption scandals in New York and we think they should be public.
** Annual Report of Artfield-China Sonangol.
** Listing of Hong-Kong stock-exchange.
** Article of NY Times, 2007
** Bloomberg article concerning the claim of CEO Rich Marin against Leviev
*** Additional info
For Further reading:
Invesco, Hines Buy Historic Rialto Bldg. in San Francisco
Africa Israel USA JV Completes Sale of 131,344-SF Property
A joint venture between Invesco Real Estate and Hines finalized its purchase of the Rialto Building, a nine-story, 131,344-square-foot office building at 116 New Montgomery St. in San Francisco’s south financial district. A group led by Africa Israel USA sold the turn-of-the-century property for approximately $434 per square foot or $57 million.
Built in 1902 at the intersection of Mission and New Montgomery streets, the building was both updated to modern office standards and its original architectural features restored by AFI USA following its acquisition of the property in 2007, including the main lobby’s bronze staircase, ornate metal elevator doors, painted panel ceiling and marble flooring.
Eastdil Secured was hired to list the property in late January and 17 offers were received as part of the bidding process.
“We were very pleased with the widespread interest in the building, which we feel is indicative of the Rialto’s strengths, both architecturally and geographically,” said Damien M. Stein, director of asset management at AFI USA. “The demand for premier office space in the most sought-after area of San Francisco is clearly outpacing the ready supply.”
Hines/Invesco shell out $57M for San
A joint venture between Hines and Invesco have acquired the Rialto Building at 116 New Mongtomery St., a 135,000-square-foot, turn-of-the-century office and retail property in San Francisco’s South Financial District.
The price was approximately $57 million, or about $425 a square foot, according to market sources.
Hines Senior Managing Director Cameron Falconer called the building,”one of San Francisco’s true architectural icons.” He said the new ownership would continue to “invest in the building to complete its transition to a ‘creative core’ asset that caters to San Francisco’s burgeoning technology and multimedia industry tenants.”
The seller was Africa Israel USA. The sale was completed only six weeks after AFI USA placed the property on the market. In total, 17 offers were submitted as part of the bidding process, according to Tamir Kazaz, CEO of AFI USA.
The Rialto Building, with its open floor plans, high ceilings and abundant light, has attracted tech tenants like Trulia and LaunchSquad in recent years and is 85 percent leased. The Rialto Building’s ground-floor retail tenants include Walgreens and Chipotle, both of which retain long-term leases.
“This sale proves that San Francisco is still unmatched as the nation’s top-performing office market,” Kazaz said. “The combination of historic architecture, creative layouts and central location make this a highly attractive property, one that will ensure long-term value and stable cash flows.”
Originally built in 1902, the H-shaped Renaissance-style Revival building was designed by architects Meyer & O’Brien. After the great earthquake of 1906, the Rialto Building’s interiors were completely rebuilt, although, the exterior structure made of steel, brick and concrete was left intact.
AFI USA acquired the property in 2007, and soon after, undertook a capital investment program to restore the property. Restoration work focused on original architectural components in the main lobby, including bronze staircase, ornate metal elevator doors, painted panel ceiling and marble flooring.
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