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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Spy With ‘Twisted Biography’ Is Laid to Rest

APKalmanovich watching his Spartak team play in a 2006 Euroleague match.
Shabtai Kalmanovich, a patron of the arts and sports, a wealthy businessman and a double agent who worked for the KGB and Israel’s Shin Bet, was laid to rest at a cemetery in Petakh Tikva, near Tel Aviv, on Thursday.

Kalmanovich, 60, was gunned down in central Moscow on Monday in an apparent contract hit that authorities said might be connected to a debt deal gone bad or an ongoing gangster turf war.

“Having a man with such a twisted biography, everything is possible,” Gennady Gudkov, a member of the State Duma’s Security Committee, told The Moscow Times.

Gudkov speculated that Kalmanovich might have asked a debtor for repayment and the debtor decided to kill him instead.

“I know of several such cases, and I think this practice is coming back during the crisis,” said Gudkov, a former KGB official.

A sports promoter, a show business producer and a spy for Soviet intelligence, Kalmanovich had the reputation of a smooth operator and was a friend to many people, from comedians to politicians.

“He was a very joyful and a very touching person,” pop singer Lev Leshchenko told Vedomosti.

He described the killing as a “horrible and an understandable tragedy.”

Unknown gunmen opened fire on Kalmanovich’s Mercedes from a passing silver Lada on Monday on ­Krasnopresnenskaya Naberezhnaya. Kalmanovich, who was heading to a business meeting, was hit 10 times and died on the spot. His driver tried to chase the Lada but was forced to stop the car because of serious injuries that he had sustained in the attack.

No arrests have been announced in the killing

Law enforcement officials said the death might be linked to a gangland war that broke out after notorious gangster Vyacheslav Ivankov died last month of injuries sustained in a July shooting. Kalmanovich was a friend of Ivankov and supported his attempts to dominate rival gangs, national media reported this week.

Hundreds of people paid their respects at his funeral, including his daughter and former business partners.

“I want you to know that I am proud and always will be proud of being your daughter,” his daughter, Liat, said in her eulogy, Israel’s Ynetnews agency reported. “You did not put me to shame. You were a spirited Jew and an ardent Zionist.”

Born in Soviet Lithuania, Kalmanovich immigrated to Israel in 1971 and, after graduating from Jerusalem University, worked at several construction projects in South Africa.

In 1988, he was arrested in Israel on charges of spying for the Soviet Union and spent five years in prison. Kalmanovich repeatedly said in interviews that he was not ashamed of working for Soviet intelligence but that he had been “brainwashed” by Soviet propaganda into offering his services.

Both the Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff and the Foreign Intelligence Service used Kalmanovich’s connections among the Israeli elite to gather information on Israeli politics, said Alexander Gurinovich, a former senior military intelligence official, Komsomolskaya Pravda reported.

Kalmanovich returned to Russia in 1993 after receiving a pardon from Israeli President Chaim Herzog on medical reasons.

Crooner Iosif Kobzon and then-Russian Vice President Alexander Rutskoi were actively involved in lobbying the Israeli authorities to pardon Kalmanovich, former Russian Ambassador to Israel Alexander Bovin recalled in his memoirs.

Upon his return to Moscow, Kalmanovich became involved in various ventures, including outdoor markets, show business and drug stores. Together with Kobzon and show producer Alexander Dostman, Kalmanovich founded the now-defunct Liat-Natali entertainment group, which organized concerts of foreign stars. Kalmanovich brought to Moscow top performers like Michael Jackson, Tom Jones, Liza Minnelli and the Gipsy Kings.

Kalmanovich said he made most of his money in South Africa, where he had befriended Kgosi Lucas Manyane Mangope, the ruler of Bophuthatswana, a black homeland that apartheid-era South Africa recognized as a sovereign nation but the rest of the world viewed as a puppet state.

“I have made my money there constructing crocodile farms, hotels and apartment blocks,” Kalmanovich said in one interview.

In Moscow and elsewhere, Kalmanovich pursued a luxurious lifestyle and was known to collect Napoleon-era porcelain at Sotheby’s and Christie’s auctions. His personal wealth was difficult to estimate because his business was mostly closed from the general public and he signed almost no papers, his friends said.

Soon after his return to Moscow, Kalmanovich started to invest heavily in sports, mainly basketball, which was his favorite sport during his childhood years in Lithuania.

In the mid-1990s, he reportedly invested $6.5 million in the Kaunas Zalgiris basketball team. Once a crown jewel of Soviet basketball, the Lithuanian-based team was in deep debt, Kalmanovich said. He later became an owner of the Spartak female basketball team in Vidnoye, the Moscow region.

Both teams flourished under his leadership. Kaunas Zalgiris won the Euroleague basketball championship in 1999, while Spartak won the Euroleague championship last spring for the third year in a row.

The Russian Basketball Federation — whose board includes Russian Technologies head Sergei Chemezov and Federal Customs Service chief Andrei Belyaninov, both former KGB officers — praised Kalmanovich on its web site as the person “connected with the recent successes of female basketball.”

Spartak and Kaunas Zalgiris had no immediate comment on Kalmanovich’s death.

But a former basketball coach said the Spartak club and the entire league faced an uncertain future with Kalmanovich’s death.

“He was a charismatic person, and he was the driving force behind female basketball,” said Alexei Tvorozhnikov, a former CSKA female basketball coach. “It is difficult to predict how both the club and the league will survive this blow.”