Montreal Chabad centre denies connection to alleged Amaya scam

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his wife, Laureen, light the first Chanukah candle as Rabbi Shalom Chriqui looks on. JASON RANSOM PMO PHOTO
Former prime minister Stephen Harper and his wife, Laureen, light the first Chanukah candle in December 2014 as Rabbi Shalom Chriqui looks on. JASON RANSOM PMO PHOTO

A Chabad-affiliated organization has been named in an investigation by Quebec’s securities regulator into the online gaming company Amaya Inc.

Court documents filed by the Autorité des marchés financiers (AMF) disclosed that the AMF seized $87,000 in cash in a raid of the Centre Chabad, listed at a Van Horne Avenue address, on June 20.

The AMF says it suspects the money was being laundered through the centre by individuals targeted in the Amaya investigation.

The public company’s former CEO David Baazov is facing charges of influencing or attempting to influence the market price of Amaya stock and communicating privileged information.

The AMF discovered the money was donated to Centre Chabad, a charitable organization, by a former Amaya consultant and suspects that it was gained through the alleged insider trading and kickback scheme.

That person is among 13 Baazov associates who have been ordered to cease trading Amaya shares and not to dispose of any gains made through their trading activities in the stock dating back to 2010.

The money, in $20 bills, was found in the car of the Centre’s director, Rabbi Shalom Chriqui, while the AMF carried out a police-escorted search warrant on the centre.

According to media reports, the centre is defending itself saying that the money was illegally seized, because it was not found at the address on the warrant and there is no evidence that it is connected to a crime. The centre has taken legal action to get the money back.

Its lawyer, Sébastien Delisle of the firm Dunton Rainville, did not return requests from The CJN for comment. Rabbi Chriqui could also not be reached.

The Centre Chabad operates a resort and conference centre in Ste. Agathe des Monts called Escale Chabad du Nord. Rabbi Chriqui is listed on its website under the phone number of the administration.

He has also been a judge of the Vaad Ha’ir’s conversion program.

The law firm said in a court filing that the $87,000 seized came from voluntary donations made to the retreat or raised through a gala and the sale of Hilloula candles.

Amaya, founded by Baazov, 35, became the largest publicly traded online gambling company in the world after acquiring PokerStars in 2014. Baazov, who resigned as CEO in August, has denied the charges, which were laid in March, and his lawyer has formally contested the AMF’s allegations.

The purpose of the AMF’s raid in June was to gather information on the centre’s banking records and any communication its employees had with individuals connected to the Amaya investigation or close relatives or friends of Baazov.

Baazov recounted in April at the Cummings Jewish Centre for Seniors Foundation Sports Celebrity Breakfast, where he was guest of honour, that he arrived in Montreal as a child from Israel.

The family had little money and his father, Joseph, looked for a Jewish school that would accept his five kids without charging tuition until he could get on his feet.

The only one that offered to take them was the Lubavitch community’s Rabbinical College of Canada. Years later, the elder Baazov repaid that kindness by giving $2 million to the school’s capital campaign.

David Baazov said he is now subsidizing the fees of 58 needy students in Jewish schools.