MOSCOW - Arkady Gaydamak, the Israeli tycoon convicted by a French court last month of smuggling arms to Angola, blasted the case as "pure politics" in an interview published Wednesday.
Gaydamak, born in Moscow, professed his innocence to the Russian daily Vedomosti, three weeks after he was convicted in absentia and sentenced to six years in jail for organising arms sales to Angola during its 1990s civil war.
"I personally never took part in the deliveries of military equipment," said Gaydamak, whose business interests have ranged from Angolan oil exports to Russian media outlets to Israeli sports teams.
"This case is pure politics," he said, referring to the "Angolagate" scandal which also led to convictions of a former French interior minister and Jean-Christophe Mitterand, a son of the late French president.
The tycoon told Vedomosti he was currently in Russia and was planning to remain there, after unsuccessfully running for mayor of occupied Jerusalem last year.
Gaydamak was born in the Soviet Union in 1952 and emigrated to Israel in 1972. He left after six months for France, but moved back to Israel again in 2000 after the French authorities started investigating Angolagate.
The tycoon said in the interview that he has French, Angolan, Israeli and Canadian citizenship and there was "nothing interfering" with him receiving a Russian passport too.
The huge Soviet-made arsenal that fuelled Angola's grim civil war included 420 tanks, 150,000 shells, 170,000 anti-personnel mines, 12 helicopters, and six warships and was worth 790 million dollars.
"Rarely have we reached such levels in the organisation and the dissimulation of criminality generating considerable profits," said judge Jean-Baptiste Parlos as the verdicts were handed down.
He described Gaydamak as someone who "behind the mask of worthiness... scoffs at borders, laws and justice".
The arms originated in the former Soviet bloc and were sent to Africa in breach of French law through a French-based firm and its eastern European subsidiary.
Despite a promise to come to Paris and explain his role, Gaydamak remained abroad.
The court heard that he used his contacts in Eastern Europe to get his hands on the Soviet-designed weapons that were shipped to Luanda. He was convicted on counts of selling arms, influence peddling and money laundering.
Gaydamak has been the focus of criminal probes in several countries.
He purchase of the popular football club Beitar Jerusalem and basketball team Hapoel Jerusalem.
In 2006, he set up a massive holiday camp near Tel Aviv for residents of northern Israel fleeing rockets fired by the Lebanese Hezbollah the war in July-August.
Later that year, he also invited 1,000 residents of the southern city of Sderot on an all-expenses-paid Red Sea holiday so they could enjoy a respite from Palestinian rocket fire from the Gaza Strip.