Phantom Goldman Banker Is Bait in Swiss Trader’s Kidnapping
(Bloomberg) -- When Yomi Rodrig got into the old, dirty-looking car parked on a quiet street in a western Paris suburb on a rainy evening in January 2015, he had an uneasy feeling something wasn’t quite right.
“But then I told myself ‘it can’t be,’” the 63-year-old Geneva-based trader said in a Paris courtroom during the trial this month of his kidnappers. “That’s how it started.”
Over the next six days, he was held in two apartments by his captors, roughed up when he tried to escape and forced to buy shares in an obscure shell company. For Rodrig, there was never any doubt that the whole thing had been orchestrated by Arnaud Mimran, a French businessman who had lured him to the rendezvous with the promise of a meeting with a Goldman Sachs Group Inc. banker for possible opportunities.
On Friday, judges in Paris agreed, and sentenced Mimran to 13 years in prison. His lawyer Jean-Marc Fedida didn’t immediately respond to queries on whether Mimran would appeal the decision.
At the time of the kidnapping, the two men had been distant acquaintances, with Mimran saying they had indirectly done some trades together. Mimran hadn’t denied setting up the meeting and had admitted that he knew Sabir Titouh, the alleged leader of Rodrig’s abductors -- who went by the name “Titax.” But he had denied having a hand in the kidnapping.
French investigators painted a picture of Mimran, 49, as a high-living, poker-playing socialite in need of cash. Mimran, who grew up in the posh 16th arrondissement of Paris, started out as a wealth manager, owned a piece of an online brokerage, married the daughter of a multi-millionaire and hired P. Diddy for his son’s bar mitzvah. He told investigators he could spend as much as 500,000 euros a month. “I’ve always liked having cash,” he said in court.
The way Rodrig and French investigators told it, the kidnapping “trap” Mimran set up was a ham-fisted attempt to dig himself out of a money hole by getting cash out of the Swiss trader. Rodrig said that while he was worth as much as 80 million euros ($96 million) at one point, at the time he was kidnapped he had about 10 million euros to his name.
Mimran, who once hobnobbed with the likes of former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is currently in custody after being charged in April in two separate murder cases. He is accused in the 2011 killing of his father-in-law, the late multi-millionaire Claude Dray, and of an accomplice in a carbon-credits fraud case, for which he was convicted in 2016 and did prison time. Fedida, his lawyer, has said Mimran denies any involvement in the two deaths.
French investigators said that at the time of the Rodrig kidnapping, Mimran owed money to his friends, and that his accounts had been either seized as part of the carbon-fraud probe or to cover a 5 million-euro debt at the Wynn Casino in Las Vegas.
Laying out in court this month what happened on that Thursday six years ago, Rodrig said that when he arrived at about 8:30 p.m. at the address he’d been given, neither Mimran nor the banker he was supposed to meet were there. In fact, it became apparent very quickly that there was going to be no meeting with a Goldman banker.
As he stepped out of his chauffeur-driven car to smoke a cigarette, Rodrig said a man claiming to be Mimran’s driver approached him and asked him to get into a car, which he did, albeit after briefly hesitating. Just minutes after they started driving off, the car stopped.
“All of a sudden, the two doors opened,” Rodrig said in court, spreading his arms out wide. “Four people grabbed me in the car and said ‘French police.’”
The men in ski masks threw him into a van and ordered him to lie down on the floor.
“They told me ‘you’re going to trade for the next 45 minutes. You have to buy about $16 million in shares via Morgan Stanley until New York trading ends,’” Rodrig recalled. “‘Do this and you’ll get out alive in an hour; if not, you’re dead.’”
Rodrig said he was asked to buy shares in Cassidy Ventures Inc., which he didn’t know at the time had been acquired by Mimran. Analyzing the stock once he was freed, the trader described it as an empty shell listed on a barely-regulated Canadian exchange.
Mimran told the court that he had asked Titax to help find investors for Cassidy, promising him 50% of all new investments in cash. But he claimed he didn’t know the alleged leader of Rodrig’s abductors would resort to such methods, blaming him for orchestrating the whole thing unbeknownst to him.
Rodrig said he did as he was told and called his broker in New York to buy 6 million Cassidy shares at $2.60 each. Shortly after, Morgan Stanley called back.
“They told me ‘Yomi, we can’t take the order because never in your whole life have you made such a bizarre trade, it doesn’t fit your profile,’” he said in court.
His “super angry” kidnappers made him buy 1 million Cassidy shares via a smaller broker the following day. On the next weekday, a Monday, Rodrig couldn’t buy more shares because the market was closed for Martin Luther King Day. That evening, Titax was murdered outside his home and on Tuesday Mimran was arrested and detained as part of the carbon-credits fraud. With no one in charge, the thugs released Rodrig.
“When they freed me they told me ‘you were programed to be killed but you’re very lucky,’” he said.
Rodrig has managed to recoup only $760,000 of the $2.6 million in shares he bought, his lawyer Patrick Jaïs said in court.
Mimran had sought to try and smear Rodrig as the two faced off in court. He said they met in 2007 when Rodrig was looking for a lawyer because he was a suspect in a French insider-dealing probe. Mimran had alleged that he got insider-trading tips from a banker and passed them on to a broker, who then placed trades for Rodrig. He mentioned in particular a transaction involving software company Business Objects.
Rodrig’s lawyer told judges his client was cleared in the French probe into trading in that stock. Rodrig has had cases in the U.S., including a settlement with no admission of guilt in 2005 over short-selling allegations. He said he has never been convicted.
But the kidnapping changed his life, Rodrig told the court. “I used to have quite a varied social life,” he said. “Now, I’ve kept only five friends and my children.”
It has also made him paranoid, he said. A few days ago, he panicked when he ran into youngsters with shaved heads in a bakery at the Frankfurt airport.
“I said to myself ‘here we go again,’” he says. “I was checking to see whether they were following me.”
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