Published: 08 January 2008
Lev Leviev, who until a week ago was classified as the richest man in Israel, has joined the growing list of Israeli billionaires who have made their homes in London, where wealthy foreigners are not asked to pay tax on income earned overseas.
This month, Mr Leviev officially moved into a bullet-proof house in Hampstead, which he bought for £35m. His near neighbours include several other mega-rich Israeli tycoons who prefer UK tax rates. In Israel, they are liable for tax on all their income, no matter where it is from.
Mr Leviev is famous in international circles as the man who broke the cartel controlled by the multinational diamond company, De Beers, by buying up diamond mines in Russia, Angola and Namibia. It is said that one third of all the diamonds sold anywhere in the world are cut and polished by his company.
Recently, he also went on a worldwide property buying spree, and opened a jewellery shop in New York's Madison Avenue. His acquisitions included the former New York Times building, for which he paid almost £300m.
News of his departure has shocked the Israeli business community and created a political headache for its government, because of the drain of wealth from Tel Aviv to London. Among those who have made their homes in London are Zvi Meitar, the founder of one of Israel's biggest law firms; Benny Steinmitz, a diamond dealer and property tycoon; Yigal Zilka, head of Queenco Leisure International; and the real estate developer, Sammy Shimon.
Mr Leviev's departure knocked 11 per cent off the stock market value of his company, Africa-Israel Investments. Officially, his spokesman has said that the multinational nature of Mr Leviev's business meant he has spent more time in London than Tel Aviv over the past year. Unofficially, another motive for moving is a dispute with the government over his 2002 tax bill.
His wife, Olga, and his two youngest children, aged 15 and 13, have also moved to London. Their other seven children have stayed in Israel, where their daughter Tzvia Leviev-Alazarov, will take charge of the family's Israeli interests. Just before he left, Mr Leviev sold his private jet and he is reported to have bought a bigger one.
Last September, Forbes magazine listed Mr Leviev as the 12th richest man in the Middle East, with a fortune of just over £2bn. He is thought to have grown richer since. He is a friend of the Russian oligarch, Roman Abramovich, and introduced him to Avram Grant, who was appointed manager of Chelsea football club last September.
Until now, Mr Leviev's life has been a success story that would have delighted Israel's founding fathers. His family, who are strict Bukharian Orthodox Jews, arrived penniless, in 1971, from Uzbekistan, then part of the Soviet Union. His grandfather had been deported to Siberia. Soon after reaching Israel, Mr Leviev left school to become a diamond cutter, and upheld a family tradition by circumcising his sons, and the sons of work colleagues.