Basketball tycoon is shot dead in MoscowMOSCOW - Colorful Russian-Israeli businessman Shabtai von Kalmanovic, a convicted spy who became owner of a top Moscow women’s basketball team, was shot dead Monday in the Russian capital, prosecutors said.
Kalmanovic, who owned the internationally successful Spartak club, was killed in a drive-by shooting when unknown assailants with automatic rifles opened fire on his Mercedes, a statement issued by prosecutors said. The businessman “was shot 20 times. He died at the scene” close to the famed Novodevichy Monastery in the centre of Moscow, the statement said. His driver was critically wounded and hospitalized.
Prosecutors said the driver had initially tried to pursue the Russian Lada car which fired the shots and then vanished. But he had to stop owing to the severity of his wounds. Born in then Soviet-controlled Lithuania in 1949, Kalmanovic immigrated with his family to Israel in the early 1970s and by the 1980s had become known as one of the richest Soviet emigres in the Jewish state.
He was known for his close ties with Israeli leaders, including former Prime Minister Golda Meir and former finance minister Yigal Horowitz. But he was then imprisoned by Israel on charges of spying for the Soviet KGB in 1988 for 17 years and sentenced to 10 years in prison. He was released from jail after seven years due to health problems.
He then made his fortune in construction after returning to Moscow and gained ownership of one of the capital markets. He had become one of the most prominent millionaires in the new Russia, spending to attract athletes and build a solid woman’s basketball team to indulge his passion for the sport. The businessman become one of the most familiar figures on the Russian basketball scene, cheering on his team from the sidelines and indulging in high fives with his squad which contained a number of U.S. imports. He had also been named as the manager of the Russian women’s basketball team.
In another role as concert promoter, he brought the hottest international stars of the day to Russia including Michael Jackson, Liza Minnelli and Jose Carreras.
“We are looking at the possibility that the murder was a contract killing,” said the head of the investigative committee of prosecutors in Moscow, Anatoly Bagmet, according to the Itar-Tass news agency.
Bagmet said that investigators would look into whether the killing was linked to Kalmanovic’s professional activities. Russia became notorious after the break-up of the Soviet Union for the number of contract killings of businessmen carried out by a shady criminal underworld.
The number of such killings in Moscow has lessened after the chaotic days of the 1990s but the murder of Kalmanovic has again underlined the continued risks of the Russian capital.
One of Russia’s most notorious mafia kingpins, Vyacheslav Ivankov, known by his nickname of “Yaponchik,” or Little Japanese, died in Moscow in early October after suffering serious injuries in an assassination attempt in July.
Married three times, Kalmanovic leaves behind four children. AFP