The firestorm surrounding financier and philanthropist Nicholas Levene intensified this week as allegations emerged concerning business dealings with leading Israeli sports people.
Mr Levene, 45, has been declared bankrupt and had his assets frozen after a number of legal claims against him from investors. He is also being pursued by at least one spread betting firm over gambling debts. It is understood that at the moment around £200 million is missing.
It emerged on Wednesday that he has been interviewed by the Serious Fraud Office. A statement said that after receiving complaints, the SFO had opened a “formal criminal investigation” into Mr Levene’s business activities and that “a 45-year old man voluntarily attended an interview under caution at the SFO on 15 October 2009, and was released without charge pending further enquiries”.
The financial scandal spread to Israel this week with a number of Israeli creditors claiming to be owed millions of pounds, and more coming forward.
Israeli newspapers and TV linked the suicide on Monday of Moni Fanan, a former manager of Maccabi Tel Aviv basketball team and one of the Israeli game’s best-known characters, with bad financial investments made through Mr Levene’s company. However, they offered no evidence of any links.
Mr Fanan, who was 63, was found hanged in his home. Reports claimed he had taken money from players and others in the game and given it to Mr Levene to invest. He was said to have debts of around £12 million.
Last Thursday insolvency specialist Deloitte was appointed to investigate Mr Levene’s activities. Its office in Israel has started its own investigation, working with creditors there.
Deloitte’s Louise Brittain, who is in charge of the Levene inquiry, assumes responsibility for all his assets, as Mr Levene has been declared bankrupt. At least 30 of his clients have been in touch with Deloitte, saying they are owed varying sums of between £500,000 and several million pounds.
Mr Levene, who lives in Arkley, in Barnet, north London, has had strong connections with Israel. His parents live in Eilat and he has a sister in Tel Aviv, though all refused to comment when contacted by the JC.
Three years ago, talking to the JC as part of a feature on new philanthropists, he said: “I will always give to Israeli charities.” He said he gave to promote Yiddishkeit in Britain, to Lubavitch and to Jewish Care. However, he declared: “Any charity that thinks it can rely on me is wrong.”
At that time Mr Levene was running a company called Integrated Asset Management. He had also been involved with Bramdean Asset Management, the company run by City businesswoman Nicola Horlick, known as “Superwoman”.
His problems became serious in the summer when the Scottish owners of the Stagecoach bus company, Ann Gloag and her brother Brian Salter, won a High Court judgment, claiming they are owed more than £17 million by Mr Levene. They had invested £10 million with him to buy specific shares which then made large profits. Another investor filed a High Court petition to have Mr Levene made bankrupt while another court order froze all of his assets.
He resigned at the weekend as vice- chairman of Leyton Orient football club, having called chairman Barry Hearn on Sunday. It was the first time Mr Levene had surfaced in public for several weeks.
Mr Levene is said to be staying at the Priory, the north London clinic famous for treating celebrities for stress-related illnesses.