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Last Updated: Friday, 13 July 2007, 18:16 GMT 19:16 UK
Profile: Arcadi Gaydamak
Arkady Gaydamak
Mr Gaydamak could find himself political kingmaker in Israel
Russian-born billionaire Arcadi Gaydamak, who has launched a new political party in Israel, is one of the country's most controversial and colourful characters.

Well-known as the owner of one of Israel's leading football clubs, Mr Gaydamak has seen his popularity soar in recent months as public discontent with Ehud Olmert's government has grown.

As faith in Israel's political establishment withered in the aftermath of the 2006 conflict with Hezbollah, Mr Gaydamak emerged with his reputation enhanced.

While the government was accused of doing little to help civilians in the conflict zone in the north, Mr Gaydamak demonstrated his common touch by setting up tent encampments for Israelis fleeing the bombardment.

Similarly, when the government resisted calls to evacuate Sderot which was coming under daily rocket fire from Gaza, the tycoon paid for some 3,000 residents from the town to stay in hotels in the Red Sea resort of Eilat.

The gesture won Mr Gaydamak widespread support.

"I am the most popular man in Israel," the non-Hebrew-speaking Mr Gaydamak said in an interview last November.

Broadbase support

Capitalising on his popular appeal, Mr Gaydamak tested the political waters in February this year, when he established the Social Justice movement.

With a purely socio-economic platform, the party tapped into growing disaffection among the country's economically-deprived - a sizeable proportion of the electorate in a country where 20% of the population live below the poverty line.

Mr Gaydamak's wide social following is also reflected among the founders of his Social Justice Party, who include a Bedouin Israeli army officer, the president of an association assisting disabled people, and a municipal official from the former Soviet Union.

Mr Gaydamak, who settled in Israel in 1972, has a large following among Israel's approximately one million Russian emigres.

He has also championed the interests of both the country's Orthodox Jews and Israeli-Arabs.

Investigation

A political right-winger, Mr Gaydamak is a close ally of the opposition Likud leader and former Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

Analysts say Likud would be one of the main beneficiaries if Mr Gaydamak's party performed as well as it is forecast to in elections, almost ensuring Mr Netanyahu's return to top office.

Mr Gaydamak has said he will not stand for parliament but will run for the prestigious office of mayor of Jerusalem instead.

"As mayor, I will be able to forge peace between Jews and Arabs in the area," he said.

But some dark clouds hang over Mr Gaydamak's bright political horizon.

An Angolan, Canadian, Israeli and French passport holder, he is wanted in France in connection with allegations of illegal arms sales to Angola in the early 1990s.

Mr Gaydamak emphatically denies any wrongdoing.

His office said Mr Gaydamak "has not broken any laws in France or elsewhere. In Israel, Arcadi Gaydamak is not the object of any judicial investigations and all rumours are spread by the representatives of the French administration and [Gaydamak's] rivals in business and politics".


SEE ALSO
Tycoon launches new Israeli party
10 Jul 07 |  Middle East



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