Gaidamak Says He'll Run in Israeli Election

VedomostiArkady Gaidamak
JERUSALEM -- Russian-Israeli billionaire Arkady Gaidamak, who was questioned Monday in a money-laundering scandal, is the latest contender for Israel's sizable Russian vote in upcoming parliamentary elections.

On Sunday night, Gaidamak announced his intention to form a new political party in Israel to run in the March 28 contest.

By declaring his intentions on Israel's Russian-language television station, Gaidamak signaled that his campaign would target the more than 1 million immigrants from the former Soviet Union who live there.

Soviet-born voters account for about one-sixth of Israel's population, and their voting patterns could mean victory or defeat on election day. Soviet emigres traditionally vote for right-wing candidates opposed to concessions to the Palestinians.

Over the years, the immigrants have had several special-interest parties representing their causes and have sent several Russian party candidates to the parliament, most notably one of the Soviet Union's most famous Jewish dissidents, Natan Sharansky.

As head of the international Beitar movement, historically based on the principle of wider Israeli borders, Gaidamak's political bent could appeal to many Russian immigrants.

Gaidamak did not have much time for politics, though. Before dawn Monday, police stopped him in Israel at an international airport, where he had planned to fly to Russia, and brought him in for questioning in connection with what could be the largest money-laundering scandal in Israel's history, Israel Radio said.

Gaidamak and at least one other Russian-born tycoon are suspected of using Israel's largest commercial bank, Bank Hapoalim, to launder millions of dollars. Gaidamak was released after questioning.

Gaidamak's other legal troubles include an international arrest warrant involving the alleged smuggling of weapons to Angola. His Israeli citizenship protects him from being extradited.

In Russia, Gaidamak hit the headlines in September as the surprise new owner of the liberal weekly newspaper Moskovskiye Novosti.

As an electoral property, Gaidamak is an unknown quantity in Israel. A telling sign of his outsider status was his recent plan -- apparently doomed by right-wing fans -- to bring an Israeli Arab player into the ranks of the Beitar Jerusalem football team, which he recently bought.

"He's a mystery man. His biography is more holes than cheese," said Timur Vaulin, the former political correspondent for the Israeli Russian-language newspaper Vesti.

"He's a man without a name and without a biography" and thus will not fare well politically, Vaulin predicted. Vaulin told Army Radio that Soviet immigrants were fed up with the Israeli political scene and were liable to stay away from the March 28 elections in droves.