Billionaire jewel magnate Leviev shuns publicity

30th July 2013, Comments 0 comments

Israeli jewel billionaire Lev Leviev is an ultra-Orthodox Jew who gives generously to charities but likes to stay out of the limelight.

Leviev, 57, the owner of diamonds worth an estimated $136 million (103 million euros) snatched from a Cannes hotel on Sunday, has a net worth of $1.5 billion (1.13 billion euros) according to Forbes magazine.

Born in Uzbekistan in the former Soviet Union, Leviev immigrated to Israel in 1971.

He moved from Israel to London in 2008 with his wife Olga and nine children, reportedly paying 35 million pounds ($69 million, 47 million euros) for a mansion in Bishops Avenue, Hampstead, known to locals as "billionaires' row".

On the Forbes world ranking of billionaires he ranks 974th, down from 764th place last year.

He made his fortune mining, cutting and polishing diamonds in Angola and Namibia, rising from humble beginnings to rival diamond giant De Beers.

According to the Israel Diamond Industry website, at the age of 15, shortly after arriving in Israel, he began an apprenticeship at a diamond polishing factory.

After compulsory service in the Israeli military he started his own polishing workshop, it said.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union he expanded business to the former republics and acquired interests in Russian mines, it added.

He later diversified into other sectors, notably with his Africa-Israel property company.

In 2009 the British embassy in Israel scrapped plans to move into a Tel Aviv building owned by the firm because of its construction projects on Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank.

In 2012 Leviev fought former partner, Soviet-born Franco-Israeli businessman Arkady Gaydamak, in a London court over Gaydamak's claim that he was owed $1 billion on commissions for Angolan diamond deals.

Leviev won the case, with costs.

A follower of the Chabad Hasidic movement, who also serves as president of the Federation of Jewish Communities of the Former Soviet Union, Leviev founded Chabad's Ohr Avner foundation, named for his late father Rabbi Avner Leviev, which supports Jewish education.

Described by Jewish publications as a key funder of Chabad, his donations have been reported as in the tens of millions of dollars, although no official figure is available.

The London Jewish Chronicle reported in 2009 that Leviev had cut funding of $50 million a year before the 2008 financial meltdown to an undisclosed amount.

Headquartered in Alpine, New Jersey, his Leviev Group has holdings in property, technology development, construction, communications and solar energy, its website says.

The Leviev charitable foundation seeks to "preserve Jewish identity, tradition... and continuity of the rich heritage and culture," it says.

© 2013 AFP

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