Lev Leviev's lost billions hits Soviet schools


A major downturn in the financial fortunes of Russian billionaire Lev Leviev has hit the network of Jewish schools he founded in the former Soviet Union. Last week, Mr Leviev’s Africa-Israel holding company announced a 2008 loss of 4.9 billion shekels, attributed mainly to the slump in property prices worldwide. Israeli business journalists estimate Mr Leviev’s personal losses since the financial crisis began at $1.7 billion.

Mr Leviev has cut funds to the Or Avner organisation, the largest network of Jewish schools in the former Soviet Union with more than 140 schools and kindergartens. Or Avner was previously receiving around $50 million a year. According to a teacher working for Or Avner, it has been losing pupils due to cuts in services such as buses. “Most of the schools are still operating, but that is thanks mainly to local donors who have taken up where Leviev has left off.”

Mr Leviev’s press officer, Tal Rabina, denied there had been a drastic cutback. “We have had to economise due to the global financial situation,” he said. “And some other donors have also stopped giving. Mr Leviev is meeting his commitments and all the schools are still operating.”

Another oligarch who has suffered heavy losses, Arkady Gaydamak — the owner of Portsmouth FC — has severed ties with most of the organisations he supported.

Mr Gaydamak built his fortune investing in Israeli businesses and international mining firms. His portfolio is estimated to have shrunk by over $1 billion in 2008 — about 75 per cent of his assets. Three months ago, following his humiliating defeat in the Jerusalem mayoral elections and an ongoing probe into alleged money-laundering, he liquidated most of his holdings in Israel, at a huge loss, and returned to Moscow.

Mr Gaydamak has cut off all support to Israeli organisations with the exception of the Beitar Jerusalem football club, which he still owns. Worst hit was the Bikur Cholim hospital in central Jerusalem, which he bought from receivers 18 months ago. The 140-year-old hospital is facing closure.

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