Court trial for Canada’s top gambling strategist and former Amaya CEO, David Baazov, begins today.
How many times have we seen the headliners of multi-billion dollar companies fall from grace? The executives build a brand to munificent stardom. Onlookers marvel at their strategically-driven success. How do they do it? But then, as the judge bangs the gavel, the reality of the situation is confirmed.
Is this how Canada’s David Baazov turned a fledgling online gambling company into a multi-billion dollar success story? Prosecutors sure seem to think so. Mr. Baazov stepped down from the CEO position of Amaya Gaming (now The Stars Group, headed by Rafael Ashkenazi) last year, amidst allegations of insider trading and market manipulation.
Now, the elite gambling strategist who orchestrated the $4.9 billion acquisition of the world’s largest online poker site, PokerStars, in 2014, must face the music. Probably…
Trial Begins for Former Internet Gambling CEO
The trial against Baazov and 5 co-defendants is set to begin this morning in Montreal. However, further delays are imminent. Attorneys for the defense are filing a motion to dismiss the charges. They claim the case was botched by the prosecution, and therefore cannot be processed in a reasonable amount of time.
The prosecution, headed by Quebec’s security regulators, Autorite des Marches Financiers (AMF), isn’t worried about that. Regulators believes they have more than enough evidence against Baazov. In fact, Bloomberg reports they are introducing “millions of items in probe”.
The AMF has laid five charges against David Baazov, his childhood friend Benjamin Ahdoot, Amaya consultant Yoel Altman, and three of Altman’s Ontario-based businesses. The charges include participating in insider trading, communicating privileged information, influencing market prices, and “aiding with trades while in possession of privileged information”.
PokerStars Profiteering, According to AMF
The AMF says the allegations date all the way back to December 2013. That’s when Amaya held its first meeting with PokerStars executives. As the company’s consultant, Mr. Altman was also present. Following his participation in that meeting, the AMF says Altman was paid $1.4 million by Amaya, and another $200,000 by Mr. Adhoot.
He then proceeded to have his companies buy up shares in Amaya, presumably based on the discreet, privileged information that Amaya was looking to acquire PokerStars’ parent company. One of Altman’s businesses, Diocles, is said to have purchased $2.25 million worth of stock in the soon-to-flourish internet gambling firm.
A few months later, Amaya announced it was buying PokerStars. The stock skyrocketed, and the company’s biggest shareholders made millions.
Gambling Strategist Lays Odds on Mistrial
Baazov has maintained his innocence all along, and if he gets his way, the trial will never even be heard. The defense is betting on a mistrial. Its motion to dismiss is based on allegations of mishandling the case on the prosecution’s part.
The defense says the AMF has been “ disorganized and tardy” in disclosing evidence. The motion also states the prosecution’s handling of the case has been “instituted precipitously, before the investigation was sufficiently advanced”.
It may be hard to dispute that claim. The AMF is introducing over 16 million items, which they didn’t release to defense attorneys until September 21, 2017. The motion declares insufficient time to assess the evidence, which they claim will take no less than six months to scrutinize and build a proper defense for.
The defense says, “That and other delays mean the trial can’t be completed within delays defined by a Supreme Court of Canada decision”.