The ‘King of Diamonds,’ with an estimated personal fortune of US$1.7 billion, Lev Leviev, has just won a legal battle wherein half of his assets in Angola were at stake.
On Friday last week Arkady Gaydamak lost his bid before the London Courts to reclaim hundreds of millions of dollars he said he is owed by Leviev. Gaydamak argued that Leviev agreed to hold their joint assets, in particular their share in Ascorp and any income from those assets, on trust in equal shares, but High Court judge Geoffrey Vos ruled that a settlement agreement between the two signed in August 2011, in which Gaydamak apparently signed away his rights to the assets, is valid.
The Angolan government ended the Ascorp monopoly in 2003, creating instead a semi-open market regulated by the state.
Back in Namibia, Leviev’s extensive investments in diamond-cutting are also facing tough times, particularly the flag-ship LLD factory in Windhoek, which is currently closed down. About 150 factory workers were sent home three weeks ago following the closure of the factory after it failed to secure a site in the race for access to Namibia Diamond Trading Company (NDTC) diamonds. The workers were sent home on what has amounted to three weeks of unpaid leave. This week it was reported in the local media that Jonas Lumbu, the general secretary of the Mineworkers Union of Namibia, said LLD has agreed to pay salaries up until July 20.
LLD’s managing director, Kombadayetu Kapwanga, was quoted as saying that Lev Leviev is also concerned about the factory’s closure. “Of course [he is concerned]. If you train people and they are sent to the streets, it’s very painful. For every human being who can think, it is cruel,” said Kapwanga.
The company has been mired in controversy ever since the Namibian Police confiscated close to 2 000 stones from its factory early last year. At the beginning of June this year, the police docket was forwarded to the office of the Prosecutor General for a decision on possible prosecution.
NDTC is the local affiliate of De Beers and did not renew LLD’s local sight-holder permit in June. LLD was the only local company to have its license renewal rejected. Leviev has a long and chequered history with De Beers. By 2004 De Beers saw its share of the international rough-diamond market reduced to 45%, compared to 80% five years earlier.
Meanwhile, Lev Leviev, a former De Beers sight-holder and therefore one of the few exclusive direct buyers of De Beers’ rough diamonds, emerged as the world’s largest cutter and polisher of precious gems. Frustrated by De Beers’ high-handed treatment of buyers, Leviev decided to operate on his own and has been dealing directly with diamond-producing governments, thus undermining De Beers’ all-important relationship with sight-holders. Leviev is the diamond industry’s first dealer to operate across the value-chain, from mining and cutting to polishing and retailing.
Leviev was accused by an Angolan human rights group in 2007 of hiring a security company guilty of participating in practices of humiliation, whipping, torture, sexual abuse, and in some cases, assassinations. He has also attracted angry demonstrations about his continued involved in the construction of Israeli settlements in the West Bank.