Was David Baazov a mere front for others in his Amaya deals?

News on 22 Sep 2017

The November criminal court hearings into charges of insider trading by former Amaya CEO David Baazov are still two months away, but already startling allegations are emerging from the preliminary court filings by Quebec’s security regulator Autorité des marchés financiers (AMF).

The Canadian media has been quick to pounce on these documents as an indication of what evidence will be led against Baazov, and one of the most damning is an accusation that Baazov was acting as a front man for his brother Ofer and associate Craig Levett, who allegedly are the real owners of 75 percent of Baazov’s Amaya shares.

Industry veterans will recognise those names as individuals associated with the defunct US-facing online sportsbook BetonUSA, which came to an inglorious and payment-challenged end following the 2006 implementation of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act.

The AMF filings claim that raids on various premises resulted in the seizure of a mobile phone allegedly belonging to Ofer Baazov which apparently contains information the securities regulator believes is evidence regarding the true ownership of Amaya shares, and the control over these exercised by Ofer and Levett. It is also claimed that the duo had full access to Amaya financial and other records.

The securities regulator additionally claims to have unearthed incriminating emails from 2015 which allegedly show that Ofer Baazov was introduced as the owner of Amaya.

The motivation for concealing the true ownership of the shares is apparently linked to the 2010 Amaya IPO, which declared that none of its directors or major shareholders had been in judicial or regulatory trouble. Ofer Baazov had a US FTC blot on his record regarding fraudulent telemarketing allegations and an almost  $780,000 settlement.

Levett and Ofer Baazov are also alleged to have been two of the beneficiaries of Baazov’s insider trading activities on the run-up to Amaya’s $4.9 billion acquisition of Pokerstars parent The Rational Group in 2014.

The AMF claims that Levett was registered as the founder of a holding company that eventually became Amaya, but that he was removed in 2007 amid speculation that his past in the US online sports betting scene could have prejudiced Amaya licensing applications.

David Baazov’s legal representatives have denied the AMF charges, and claim that the information retrieved from AMF court filings by the media is all about “prejudicial leaks, declarations and insinuations” by the AMF that are designed to generate public support for a weak case.

Whoever is ultimately proved to own the majority of Amaya shares is perhaps currently moot; since his resignation from Amaya (now The Stars Group) last year David Baazov has been selling off most of “his” Amaya shares for hundreds of millions of dollars (see previous reports).

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