Arrest warrant issued for philanthropist

Nathan Jacobson

TORONTO — A Jewish Canadian businessman who has been celebrated for his philanthropy and commitment to Jewish and Israeli causes has a warrant out for his arrest after failing to appear in a San Diego court for a pre-sentence hearing.

A warrant for Nathan Jacobson’s arrest was issued July 30 by California Judge Irma Gonzalez after the 57-year-old Winnipeg native failed to appear in court for a hearing related to a case in which he pleaded guilty.

According to reports by Postmedia News and Ha’aretz, Jacobson and 17 others were indicted in 2006 by a grand jury in San Diego for their role with an online pharmacy called Affpower that shipped drugs from Costa Rica to Americans without legal prescriptions.

Jacobson laundered more than $46 million in drug payments through his Tel-Aviv-based credit card company, RX Payments Ltd., and then sent the money to bank accounts in Cyprus.

Although he pleaded guilty to money-laundering in 2008, the documents were sealed while Jacobson worked with American investigators.

But when he failed to appear at the pre-sentencing hearing – prosecutors were seeking jail time – Gonzalez unsealed the documents and issued an international warrant for his arrest.

Jacobson has not been seen since, and Postmedia News reported that he may have fled to Myanmar, formerly known as Burma.

In the four years since his 2008 guilty plea, Jacobson, who has dual Canadian-Israeli citizenship, still maintained his role as a high-profile player in Jewish community non-profit organizations.

Among other positions, he has been chair of the Canadian branch of Nefesh B’Nefesh, a post he held until 2010; has served on the boards of Tel Aviv University, the Tel Aviv Foundation, and the Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee (CJPAC), and been honorary co-chair for a Canadian Friends of Hebrew University (CFHU) gala dinner.

In 2010, Jacobson was honoured at the annual Y Sports Dinner in Winnipeg for his commitment to the Jewish community.

In fact, Jacobson had committed to serve as campaign chair for the upcoming Mount Carmel Dinner at Toronto’s Fairmont Royal York Hotel in November, hosted by the Canadian Friends of the University of Haifa, during which Jason Kenney, Canada’s minister of citizenship, immigration and multiculturalism, is slated to receive an honorary degree.

Postmedia News reported that Jacobson, who donated to the Conservative party from 2007 to 2011, had become friendly with Kenney, as well as Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird, with whom he travelled to Israel.

Spokespeople for both ministers said they were unaware of Jacobson’s indictment.

Following news about the arrest warrant, non-profit organizations where Jacobson had volunteered in the past were also quick to distance themselves from him.

Hetty Shapiro, executive director of Canadian Friends of University of Haifa, the organization hosting the dinner for Kenney, told The CJN via email, that her organization was “unaware of Nathan Jacobson’s indictment, and he has since withdrawn as campaign chair. He is no longer involved with our organization or the upcoming dinner. Dr. Arnie Aberman is now the tribute committee chair.”

Shapiro said she couldn’t comment as to whether Jacobson had planned to commit funds to the organization or when he withdrew from the event. 

CFHU’s national communications director, Miriam Pilc-Levine, said Jacobson “served as the honorary co-chair of the 2011 Scopus Award Gala dinner in Winnipeg in support of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder research. Since his role was in an honorary capacity, he did not play an active role in the gala and was not in attendance at the evening.”

CJPAC’s communications director Tomer Chervinsky said, “While Mr. Jacobson was listed as a member of our advisory board for a short time, he was unable to participate in any of our advisory board meetings, and as such I can’t provide much insight into this issue.”

Jacobson often spoke to the media about growing up in poverty, the importance of his Hebrew school education, and his Jewish identity and Zionism.

Jacobson served in the Israel Defence Forces before he began amassing his fortune in the 1990s selling gasoline, cars and cigarettes in Russia.

He eventually went into construction and then moved on to the Internet pharmacy business, establishing, a now-defunct Israeli online pharmacy, Ha’aretz reported.

He also ran Paygea, a credit card clearing company that handled payments for adult websites and gambling sites, which suddenly ceased operations in Israel last April.