$400 million lawsuit reveals how Eytan Stibbe allegedly scammed his ex-partners in Africa
$400 million lawsuit reveals how Eytan Stibbe allegedly scammed his ex-partners in Africa
Ami Lustig & Roy Ben Yami, who together with Stibbe founded the LR Group, which operated in Angola, claim Stibbe took over the company's assets worth hundreds of millions of dollars through “a series of fraudulent acts”
A huge lawsuit filed last week in the Tel Aviv District Court by the former partners of businessman Eytan Stibbe opens a window into a world of alleged fraud and theft, alleging misrepresentations and sophisticated lies, breach of trust and betrayal of friends who fought shoulder to shoulder in the same Air Force squadron. It also reveals other controversial aspects of Stibbe’s business past. Stibbe is known to the general public as the first private Israeli "space tourist", who flew into space last year as part of the "Rakia" mission.
The lawsuit, for an astronomical amount of more than NIS 1.4 billion - more than $400 million (for fee reasons, the amount of the claim was limited to about $140 million), was revealed for the first time by Calcalist.
The indictment describes a random encounter at a social event in February 2020. On the one side is Ami Lustig - one of the trio of former pilots-friends-partners in the LR group, whose other two members are Roy Ben Yami and Eytan Stibbe. On the other side is Haim Taib, Stibbe’s close business partner, especially after the original trio of LR broke up in 2012. "I feel guilty and want to apologize to you for my and Eytan Stibbe’s behavior towards you," Taib shocked Lustig at the meeting.
A conversation began to unfold between the two, which grew longer and longer. Apparently, Taib had plenty of his own issues with Stibbe which resulted in the breakup of their business partnership a year earlier, in 2019. And what Taib told Lustig left the latter speechless. From there things began to unfold, and the dramatic climax, as of now, is the current lawsuit.
A little background: Stibbe, Ben Yami and Lustig met in the Air Force and together continued to advise Israel Aerospace Industries on the Lavi project. In 1985 they founded the LR group and owned it jointly and equally for 27 years. In the first years, LR focused on defense activities in Africa and consulting for Israeli defense industries operating there. Over the years, they expanded to activities in about 20 countries on the continent: infrastructure projects in the fields of communication, construction, education, aviation, agriculture and more. From the beginning, the three divided the fields and areas of activity between them, but maintained an equal distribution of the profits of the entire group and agreed that all activity would only be done through it. "The relationship was based on the brotherhood of warriors, kindness and trust," Ben Yami and Lustig write in their lawsuit.
In the early 1990s, LR entered Angola, and from 1995 Stibbe was responsible for overseeing the group's activities in the divided country and developing business there. Later he was also responsible for the financial sector and credit lines in Angola, where he established extensive contacts. During the civil war in Angola, LR provided a lot of knowledge and security equipment to the government, and its ties with it became tighter. After the end of the war in 2002, the Angolan government sought to promote extensive infrastructure projects through the group's companies, but encountered financing difficulties. To this end, in 2003, LR established a subsidiary called Luminar - which was actually a financing body that provided the Angolan government with credit in exchange for interest. Thus, LR could benefit from both the financing income and the profits of its operations in the country. Business, to say the least, was booming.
Back to the meeting in 2020. Taib, the suit claims, revealed to Lustig that Stibbe had in fact "stole" Luminar from him and Ben Yami from right under their nose through misrepresentations, false records and alleged falsification of documents.
Lustig was shocked. A week and a half later, he met with Taib again, and according to the lawsuit, he went on to tell him in detail how Stibbe, in collaboration with him, made false representations to Lustig and Ben Yami about Luminar's supposedly dismal financial situation and the future of the entire group's activities in Angola. The goal was to convince them to sell the allegedly failed Luminar to the Angolan government for $12 million. All this, while allegedly, according to the lawsuit, it was worth $278 million at the time.
But according to Taib, this was actually a scam: not only was the company profitable and had hundreds of millions of dollars in cash, but the company was not sold to the Angolans at all, and Stibbe seized control of it with Taib. He was able to do this, he said, through a person who was introduced to Lustig and Ben Yami as a trustee on behalf of the Angolan government who was supposedly purchasing Luminar on its behalf. However, in fact the same trustee was Stibbe’s agent, and purchased it for him and for Taib - and later transferred it to them.
The theft, according to the lawsuit, did not end there: Stibbe succeeded, with the help of lies, via misrepresentations and "unbridled activity", to take out of the hands of the LR group also the activities of Vital Capital- an impact fund which was established with the aim of developing social projects of sustainability in Angola. According to the lawsuit, Stibbe smuggled significant assets that were under the control of Luminar to Vital (the amount stated in the lawsuit is about $752 million), thus breaching the trust of his partners, breaching his obligations and illegally enriching himself at their expense. According to Ben Yami and Lustig, contrary to the image that Stibbe tries to paint on the outside when he "presents himself over the years as a philanthropist working for the benefit of the people of Angola", in practice, "Vital was used as a platform to generate profits for the personal benefit of Eytan and Haim (Taib)".
Taib, it now turns out, exposed what is called in the lawsuit "the orderly plan of fraudulent acts" by Stibbe aimed at dispossessing his partners. This information, along with real time email correspondence attached to the lawsuit, which was submitted through attorneys Alex Hertman, Uriel Prinz, Marina Roizer and Inbar Assaraf from the law offices of S. Horowitz, is at the basis of the harsh superlatives they shower on their former friend from the squadron and the allegations against him in the lawsuit.
"Ami and Roy discovered that, despite the great trust they placed in Eytan, their best friend and brother in combat as fighter pilots in the Air Force, that he was promoting the interests of the group and of them as partners, Eytan worked to promote his personal interests, at their expense, with the help of other people, by deception, through many manipulations and by taking advantage of the friendship and loyalty that supposedly prevailed between the partners."
Lustig and Ben Yami estimate the damage caused to them from the sale of Luminar at $189 million and the damage from taking Vital out of the group at $219 million - and this is how the amount of their claim is calculated.
The current lawsuit was filed as arbitration proceedings are being held between the parties. In December 2021, CTech revealed the internal conflict between Stibbe, Lustig and Ben Yami, when the latter asked the court to appoint an arbitrator in their dispute after two failed mediation attempts.
Since then, a British arbitrator has been appointed, with the confidential arbitration focusing on the memorandum of understanding signed between the parties upon their business separation in 2012. In the current lawsuit, Lustig and Ben Yami claim that they have additional claims regarding events that occurred even before the dissolution of the partnership.
Stibbe’s lawyers, Giora Erdinst and Tomer Weissman from the firm Erdinast, Ben Nathan, Toledano & Co.: "The statement of claim is a document full of false, unfounded and recycled claims. Once again we are witnessing Lustig and Ben Yami's method - submitting a defamatory and unfounded claim to the Court and then using the media to make it public, in a move with a transparent purpose to put undue pressure on Eytan Stibbe. An arbitration proceeding dealing with the same matters is already underway between the parties. Lustig and Ben Yami seem to have realized that they are unable to substantiate the idle claims in arbitration and therefore decided to move from the legal arena to the public arena, under the auspices of a frivolous lawsuit. This is a cynical exploitation of the legal system in Israel. There is no basis for claims of misrepresentation or breach of fiduciary duty. The attempt by Lustig and Ben Yami, shrewd businessmen, to present themselves as fools is pathetic. These are false claims, the fuel that drives them is pure jealousy, since after parting with Eytan he continued to succeed in his business, while the business of the LR company, which remained owned by Lustig and Ben Yami, faltered."