Russian billionaire wants to be mayor of Jerusalem

Monday, April 30, 2007 |  by Staff Writer
Russian-Jewish billionaire Arcadi Gaydamak has announced his intention to run for mayor of Jerusalem when elections for the prestigious post are held next year.

Gaydamak, who also holds Israeli citizenship, made a name for himself in Israel last year when he came to the aid of communities he accused the current government of doing too little to defend against Arab missile attacks.

Most notable was his financing of a weekend vacation in Eilat for much of the population of the hard-hit Negev town of Sderot, which has suffered almost daily rocket attacks since Israel pulled out of the nearby Gaza Strip in late 2005.

Gaydamak followed up his philanthropic gestures by launching a political movement focusing on social issues that he believes will become one of the Knesset's more powerful factions.

While Gaydamak has vowed not to seek a political career for himself in the Knesset, he is ready to take over the reins of Jerusalem's city hall, and is confident that the residents of the capital will see him as the best choice.

"I have no doubt that the entire city will vote for me," said Gaydamak in an interview with Yediot Ahronot. "There's not one person who is not familiar today with Gaydamak and his ability."

But it's not only on the economic front that the business tycoon wants to better Jerusalem's lot.

Under his leadership, Jerusalem "will also become a symbol of the Jewish spirit. It's my duty to defend the Jewish tradition," said Gaydamak.

However, Gaydamak may never have an opportunity to take on the role of "defender of Jerusalem's Jewish character" if prosecutors from various nations involved in a number of investigations against him have their way.

In the most serious case, French prosecutors are vigorously investigating Gaydamak and a French business partner over suspicion of illegal arms trafficking to Angola during that nation's 27-year civil war.

According to the charges, Gaydamak and French businessman Pierre Falcone sold $791 million worth of heavy weaponry to the Angolan government from 1993 to 2000 without proper clearance from the French government.

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