Byline: KEITH DOVKANTS
SOCIALITE and supermodel Gabriella Calthorpe is the face of LevievDiamonds. Her cool beauty, framed by a necklace of exquisitely cut gems, shinesout from the pages of Harper's Bazaar above the Leviev catchphrase"Extraordinary Diamonds".
They certainly are. The stones Lev Leviev's company offers from its shops inOld Bond Street and on Madison Avenue in New York are held to be among thefinest anywhere. The success of Leviev's policy of only selling the best hasbrought him immense wealth, vividly illustrated when the Evening Standardpublished the first photographs of his new [pounds sterling]35 million house in Hampstead.
Anyone seeing those pictures of the Versailles-style stone staircase, thecarved replica of a chimneypiece at Cliveden and the cavernous indoor pool andspa might idly wonder what one has to do to acquire a house like that. InLeviev's case, the answer is as extraordinary as his diamonds.
At the age of 51, Leviev sits atop a money mountain. Estimates of his wealthvary from around [pounds sterling]2 billion to [pounds sterling]4 billion. The story of how he went fromvirtually nothing to scale these financial heights is part Indiana Jones, partMacchiavelli. It is peopled with exceptional characters including the beautifuldaughter of an African president, a Russian billionaire with a colourful pastand a charismatic rabbi.
Then there is Leviev himself who, depending on who you talk to, is either oneof the most courageous businessmen around, or the most audacious. Some hesitateto accord him even that quality.
In creating his worldwide empire, Leviev has come in for criticism. There areclaims his operations are creating misery for others, something he emphaticallydenies. Certainly, he is noted for his charity.
He gives away more than [pounds sterling]25 million a year and has taken an enlightened stancein his business dealings in Africa.
But Leviev is in the diamond business and, like the raw material from which hiswealth derives, it can be very rough.
Cut from Bond Street to the Cuango Valley in north-eastern Angola. The CuangoRiver is one of the richest sources of diamonds in Africa. The region wasfought over again and again in Angola's civil war and the trade in blooddiamondsthose produced in conflictflourished here. Thousands died in the struggle to control the rich seams andriver bed that to this day yield millions of dollars worth of stones everyweek.
In 1990 De Beers, the company that controls around half of the world's diamondproduction, signed a contract that gave it a monopoly over Angolan stones.
As the civil war ragedit was to cost 500,000 lives before peace was declared five years agoDe Beers exported billions of pounds worth of diamonds from Angola. Among them,a United Nations investigation discovered, were large quantities of blooddiamonds, mined in war zones and sold to buy arms.
As the Angolan war reached a climax and the anger over blood diamonds became aninternational issue, Lev Leviev decided to try his luck in Angola.
He was already very rich, a successful diamentaire based in Israel, and he hadinfluential friends.
Among them was Arkady Gaydamak, a Russian-Israeli who made a fortune from theopportunities presented by the collapse of the Soviet union. Gaydamak, whoseson AlexanderSashaowns Portsmouth Football Club, is always looking for opportunities, his manyadmirers say. Angola was an irresistible one. He had made millions from coal,meat and wheat, but was to acquire notoriety for alleged dealing in weapons.
In 2000, a magistrate in France named Gaydamak in connection with an illicitarms-for-oil deal with Angola. He insisted he had done nothing wrong and hadmerely acted in a legitimate transaction between the governments of Russia andAngola, which have long-standing ties. He was never charged, but the son offormer French president Francois Mitterrand, Jean-Christophe Mitterrand, wasgiven a 30-month suspended jail sentence for his involvement in the affair. …