On January 27, 2020 it was announced that the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office quits the “Jewish Nobel” prize programme founded by three Russian oligarchs of Jewish descent: Mikhail Fridman, Petr Aven and German Khan.
The official name is Genesis Prize, and it was founded to award prominent Jews “for their professional accomplishments, commitment to Jewish values, and contribution to improving the world.” The annual winner gets $1 million from the $100 million endowment provided by Mikhail Fridman and his business partners.
Fridman, who is currently #79 in the global Forbes list with 15 bln dollars, can afford such generosity, considering that it is very helpful for preserving Israeli citizenship despite being a Russian oligarch and a British tax resident.
The announcement of Netanyahu’s office getting out of the Genesis comes amidst three corruption cases that the prime minister has been charged with. Its participation though has caused problems before – in 2018 the Genesis Prize Foundation had to cancel the awarding ceremony altogether when Natalie Portman, who had won the prize that year, claimed that she would not attend because she “did not want to appear as endorsing Benjamin Netanyahu.”
To make things worse, the 2019 winner Robert Kraft, a businessman and philanthropist, was charged with soliciting a prostitute just a month after receiving the prize. His case is ongoing.
The founder of the Genesis Prize Foundation Mikhail Fridman has a legal case on his hands as well. Spanish prosecutors accuse him of raider attacks, market manipulation, fraudulent insolvency, business corruption and misuse of company assets in regard to two Spanish businesses – Zed and Dia.
Fridman is accused of having led “a series of actions that led to the insolvency of the Spanish company Zed Worldwide SA… in order to buy it at a ridiculously low price, much lower than that of the market,” the court document says. The prosecutors claim the as a shareholder and creditor for Zed, the Russian magnate had “a privileged position for any type of decision in the group.”
Spain’s anti-corruption forces say mobile phone operator Vimpelcom, which has since been re-named as VEON, controlled by Fridman, suddenly terminated or modified contracts with a Russian subsidiary of the Spanish group from 2014, depriving it of significant revenue.
Those contracts had boosted Zed’s revenues to such an extent that it planned to list on Nasdaq and secured a 140-million-euro ($157-million) loan in 2013, increasing its debt. Some of that was loaned by a bank controlled by Fridman, prosecutors say. In difficulty, Zed applied for bankruptcy in June 2016.
Four months later, people close to the Russian businessman came forward to buy Zed for 20 million euros, “much less than its value when blockage manoeuvers controlled by Mr. Fridman started,” prosecutors say.
The very same manoeuvers have been spotted by the press in the case of Dia, the embattled Spanish supermarket chain Mikhail Fridman bought in May via a hostile takeover. The Reuters write that Spain’s High Court is investigating allegations that Russian tycoon Mikhail Fridman acted to depress the share price of Dia when trying to take control of the supermarket chain, a court document seen by Reuters showed.
Spain’s Supreme Court gave the High Court a mandate to investigate anonymous accusations which it said indicated Fridman may have acted to manipulate prices, engaged in insider trading and damaged the interests of minority shareholders.
The court document cites a police report alleging that Fridman acted in a coordinated and concerted way through a network of corporations to create short-term illiquidity in the company and lower the share price before launching his takeover: “LetterOne Investment Holdings (directed by Fridman), shareholder in Dia, maintained a heightened financial tension to lower the share price before buying the company.”
In October, Fridman appeared in court in Madrid as part of the Zed case, and denied all charges. The prosecutor José Grinda, however, insisted on his maintaining the ‘accused’ status. In the words of Grinda, Fridman carried out “a practice known in the Russian criminal environment as raiding (assault or attack) or illegal takeover of companies”.
Just a few weeks ago, Fridman got involved in another raiding scandal in Russia, where he was accused of an attack on businesswoman Elena Baturina, and of an attempt to extract money from her via a long estranged bankrupt brother who has a criminal past of his own. Russian media note that the timing for the attack was deliberate, as it occurred right after the death of her husband Yuri Luzhkov, a former Mayor of Moscow.