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Canadian Press: Activists say Montreal firms used as fronts for building Israeli settlements

Activists say Montreal firms used as fronts for building Israeli settlements

July 20, 2008 12:21

MONTREAL – Murky ownership of two Montreal companies is feeding allegations by U.S. activists that the firms are being used as fronts for Israeli developers intent on building settlements in Palestinian territory.

The companies – Green Mount International Inc. and Green Park International Inc. – are already being sued for war crimes in Quebec Superior Court by the West Bank town of Bilin.

They are accused of violating international and Canadian law by acting as “agents of Israel” in building condominiums within Bilin’s town limits and selling them to Israelis

A Palestinian-rights group, Adalah-NY, now alleges the companies are controlled by Shaya Boymelgreen, a controversial real-estate developer in New York City.

As evidence, they cite Israeli media reports from 2005 and 2006 that identify Boymelgreen as Green Park’s principal stakeholder.

“I don’t think people in Canada widely knew that these companies were building settlements in the West Bank,” said David Bloom, a spokesman for the group.

“They’re only half-exposed since … (Boymelgreen) has not been publicly named.”

Calls to Boymelgreen’s spokesperson in New York were not returned.

Boymelgreen’s name does not appear in Bilin’s $2-million lawsuit. Both Green Park and Green Mount list a Montreal woman as their sole director, president and secretary.

But Bilin’s Canadian lawyer says he believes the woman – Annette Laroche – is only a figurehead.

“We believe (her) to be simply the secretary at the law firm that incorporated the company with really no knowledge or involvement,” said Mark Arnold.

“I have no evidence that she has done anything wrong. Nevertheless she is liable for the conduct of that company.”

Both companies have Byzantine ownership structures with ties that extend to the African diamond trade.

Quebec government records say Green Park and Green Mount are each controlled by Lexinter Management, which lists a commercial photo studio in Montreal as its address.

Lexinter in turn lists its majority shareholder as F.T.S. Worldwide Corp., a Panama-based company involved in the past with the diamond trade in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

F.T.S. Worldwide was formerly the majority shareholder of Emaxon Inc., which was granted an exclusive deal to market Congolese diamonds in 2003.

Emaxon’s sole director, president and secretary is Karen McIntyre, who served the same functions for Green Mount until she was replaced by Laroche in 2007.

Efforts to reach McIntyre and Laroche were unsuccessful.

Repeated calls to Ronald Levy, the lawyer representing Laroche and the two companies in her name, were not returned.

The Montreal offices of Levy’s law firm, De Grandpre Chait, also serve as Emaxon’s head office, at least for government tax records.

Adalah-NY argues Boymelgreen used Green Park and Green Mount to sub-contract the construction of the settlements near Bilin to Danya Cebus, a subsidiary of Africa Israel Investments.

The conglomerate is headed by Israeli diamond magnate Lev Leviev, who partnered with Boymelgreen in a series of New York real-estate ventures between 2002-2007.

UNICEF, the UN children’s fund, cut its ties with Leviev last month after it found “at least a reasonable grounds for suspecting” that Danya Cebus was involved in settlement building, which is considered illegal by the UN.

Adalah-NY said their research has shown that settlements are often funded by complex and misleading business deals.

“They want people to pay no attention to the man behind the curtain,” said Bloom.

Bilin’s lawyer acknowledged that his case is focused more on what the companies did and not who runs them.

“The fact that they may be billionaires – or God knows what – has no bearing on Bilin’s belief that Green Park is carrying out illegal activity in its neighbourhood,” Arnold said.

And while the defendants have filed an appearance in the lawsuit, they have yet to outline their defence.

News from ©The Canadian Press, 2008