He was the flamboyant and charming stockbroker with a reputed golden touch and she was the perfect hostess, loving wife and doting mother.
|Nicholas and Tracey Levene. Photo: Edward Lloyd/Alpha |
7:00AM BST 30 Sep 2012
Together Nicholas and Tracey Levene befriended multimillionaires who he then persuaded to hand over huge amounts of cash for him to invest.
But in reality “Beano” Levene, nicknamed for his love of the boyhood comic rather than his passion for the high life, was gambling the cash and using it to pay for the couple’s life of luxury.
Levene was running a classic “Ponzi” scheme. Behind the facade, his wealth was built on a fantasy of business acumen and was paid for with other people’s money.
Last week the 48 year-old pleaded guilty to running a £32 million fraud stealing from British investors. He is facing a long prison term. In legal cases in Britain and Israel, a series of victims are trying to salvage the money they entrusted to him.
In fact, it can be disclosed, Israel was a second centre of operations for “Beano”, whose nickname there was “Nick the King”. His life in Britain and Israel ran in parallel: a friend to the wealthy, and lavish in his partying, he made friends who became clients to whom he promised healthy returns.
He offered shares in companies that included HSBC, Royal Bank of Scotland, Imperial Energy and Rio Tinto. He told clients he had access to shares unavailable to ordinary investors, which he would trade at a supposedly huge profit.
In the end it came crashing down because the money he had supposedly been investing had been used for spread betting. Instead of buying shares, he would place his clients’ funds in bets on stock market levels and individual shares.
If the share price went up, Levene would pay his clients returns. But when the price fell, he had to pay the spread betting firms. That meant taking new investments and using those to pay his liabilities.
Eventually, the edifice collapsed, leaving clients including Brian Souter and Ann Gloag — the Stagecoach founders who lost £10 million — out of pocket.
From April 2005, he simply stole his investors’ stakes, faked paperwork, and duped new victims to keep the money coming in. He will be sentenced on Oct 22.
The rise of “Beano” began when he returned from Israel to Britain. His electrician father, Martin, and his mother, Anne, had emigrated from their home in Stanmore, north-west London, when Levene was 15.
He served in the Israeli military and worked as a hotel bell boy, but found his real home in the City. It was the peak of the 1980s boom when he started trading, aged 21. Known for his gift of the gab, he used his North London connections to win clients and kudos from his employers.
With his wife Tracey — the couple have three children — he socialised with Sir Philip Green, the retail tycoon, the Tchenguiz brothers and Richard Caring, owner of Annabel’s, the nightclub, and The Ivy restaurant.
By 2004 he had donated £10,000 to the Conservative Party and claimed Howard Leigh, then treasurer, as a “close friend”, although Mr Leigh later said: “I wouldn’t call us close friends, we didn’t go to each other’s homes.”
As markets rose, his promise of 12 per cent returns earned him a £2 million five-bedroom house in Hertfordshire with a heated outdoor swimming pool and cinema room. In Israel there was a £3.4 million villa in Herzliya, Tel Aviv’s wealthiest district, and a home in Eilat on the Red Sea for his parents. The Saturdays, the girl band, played at the bar mitzvah of Levene’s son Daniel.
However, just as his gambling grew in London, in Israel he was also finding victims, including, it can be disclosed, Daniel Jammer, a multi-millionaire German-born Israeli.
Mr Jammer had been celebrating when he met Levene in 2008. His football club, Maccabi Netanya, had gone top of the Israeli Premier League, and Levene, who had been vice chairman of Leyton Orient, offered to buy a stake in his team.
Levene would later claim to have a gambling addiction after losing £50 million. When he met Mr Jammer, Levene owed huge amounts to spread betting firms. The Levenes became friends with Mr Jammer and his wife, holidaying at the Jammers’ Ibiza villa, with Levene offering to cut his new friend in on a major stock flotation.
Last week Mr Jammer declined to talk to The Sunday Telegraph, but his bitterness at the betrayal is clear in court papers filed in Tel Aviv. The documents show Mr Jammer agreed to give Levene £9 million to buy shares in a German transport company but when the flotation fell through Levene failed to return the cash.
Mr Jammer was convinced Mrs Levene was part of the deception – his legal team claim she convinced Mrs Jammer to get her husband to invest. “From conversations they have since had with another couple from abroad who fell victim to the Levenes’ tricks, it became apparent that Tracey knew well even before the money was passed on to Levene that he would neither invest it nor return it,” the papers claimed. The court heard he “was deep in debt and was not able to pay back many people including family members”.
The Jammers tried to force Tracey Levene to sell the villa in Tel Aviv. It was in Mrs Levene’s name but was heavily mortgaged by her husband. The Israeli court ruled that Mrs Levene was unaware of her husband’s Ponzi scheme, but she still lost her Israeli home to British creditors.
A source at the Israeli accountancy firm Deloitte Brightman Almagor Zohar said Mrs Levene’s villa and the home of Sarah Levene Goffer, his sister, were seized and sold, along with an Eilat apartment registered to Levene’s parents, and home contents detailed as “expensive furniture, paintings, and carpets”.
Last week the Levenes’ home in Hertfordshire was listed with four agents priced at £2 million. Land registry documents show Levene had remortgaged the property in September 2008 and within three months a string of creditors had applied for a share in the proceeds of a future sale.
Pictures of the property show a house lined with family pictures and paintings of horse racing and traditional Jewish scenes. But the family have moved out and much of the contents are expected to be sold to pay something towards Levene’s huge debts.
For Levene, the parties in Britain and Israel are very much over.