Omar Harfouch definitely knows how to please Lebanese public. He is fit, he is rich, his photos are glossy and kitschy. Naturally born president, or at least a mayor one might think. Well, things are slightly more complicated.
Let’s take a look at a shameless PR piece called “Omar Harfouch, a hope for Lebanon”. Harfouch offers everything, now and in abundance: democracy, zero corruption, fair judges, economical wonders, you name it. The author of this masterpiece, Gary Cartwright, wrote two books, “Russian Policy and the New Arms Race” and “Wanted Man: the story of Mukhtar Ablyazov”. The last is rumoured to be sponsored by Timur Kulibayev. But the article is signed by Eric Gozlan, while Gary Cartwright appears to be just a technical login of person who put that crap on the discredited platform.
Anyway, the piece falls short in providing some biographical data on Omar Harfouch. It only says that he
“…trained in the conservatories of Soviet Ukraine, he speaks six languages”. Well, let’s dig a little deeper.
Omar’s personality and career can’t be separated from his brother’s business. They had and still are involved in a lot of common projects. A laudable example for many, except the projects were often of criminal nature. Human trafficking, prostitution and corporate schemes are here.
Harfuch brothers: origins of Omar and Walid Harfouch
The most interesting thing about the Harfouch brothers’ biography is that for many years, many local journalists managed to confuse Libya with Lebanon. And it’s not surprising, as they were born in Tripoli – just not in the capital of Libya (North Africa), but in a city with the same name in northern Lebanon (Middle East). That’s why in some articles, the brothers were referred to as originating from Lebanon, while in others from Libya. Their close relationship with the Gaddafi family played a big role in this confusion. This, in turn, gave rise to a story that the brothers’ father supposedly held a high position at the court of the now-deceased Libyan dictator – and allegedly gave them money for their initial capital. In reality, this is far from the truth.
Harfuch Walid Mohammed Adnan was born on April 10, 1971 in Tripoli, Lebanon. His family was once aristocratic but had become impoverished. His mother, Najwa El-Naj, was a teacher and school principal, and his father, Adnan Harfuch, was a professor of Arabic language and literature who also taught French embassy employees. Adnan Harfuch had connections to the Soviet Union and was able to send his older son, Omar, to study in the USSR for free. However, Omar was eventually expelled from the Moscow Conservatory and ended up at the Glinka Music School in Dnepropetrovsk, which he graduated from in 1993.
After Omar Harfuch was expelled from the Moscow Conservatory and ended up at the Glinka Music School in Dnepropetrovsk, he called his younger brother Valid to join him in his dormitory room in 1990. According to another source, their father sent Walid Harfuch to live with Omar to keep them from being drafted into the Libyan army and risking their lives in the ongoing war. Living in a shared room in Dnepropetrovsk was safer for them than being at home in Tripoli. In 1991, Walid enrolled in the journalism department of Dnepropetrovsk University but never finished his studies. They assimilated in Ukraine as Walid and Omar Harfuch.
Thus, the numerous rumours about the absolute inability of the brothers to work and study are not just rumours. Where could such “losers” go? They went into business – it was the beginning of the 90s, and everyone in Ukraine rushed to sell and buy. However, even here the Harfuch brothers managed to stand out in peculiar way.
First attempts in human trafficking by Omar and Walid Harfuch
Walid Harfuch once assured journalists that he started by selling counterfeit and unlicensed cassettes with recordings of popular music groups, which he himself made on a double cassette recorder. But this is just a free retelling of the folk-tale “I sold an apple, bought two, washed and sold them again…”, which has a little-known continuation “…and then I inherited a fortune.” In the case of the Harfuch brothers, their real “apples” were a middleman and practically fraudulent company that helped foreign students (mostly – their compatriots) get into universities in Dnipropetrovsk.
In fact, the brothers took money from them only for showing them to the doors of the institutes and where to submit the documents, as well as for helping (not for free) to rent housing in Dnipropetrovsk (the city is now bearing the name ‘Dnipro’). Well, their “inheritance” was the useful connections of their father (who, in the early 90s, having lost the patronage of the collapsing USSR, moved to live in France with the help of his acquaintances-diplomats) plus their own acquaintances, multiplied by an insatiable thirst for “easy money” and a beautiful life at someone else’s expense.
Radio station “Super Nova” and the mysterious shares sale
It all started when the energetic journalism student, Valid Arfuch, who wasn’t particularly successful in his studies, managed to arrange an “internship” at one of the local TV channels in Dnipro. Through his father, he also got a job as a freelance correspondent for “Radio France International” (RFI). Although the French had no interest in the life of provincial Dnipro, and Walid never produced any reports for them, the image of a “RFI journalist” opened many doors for him and helped him make the right connections.
One of these acquaintances was a certain Lyapen Douglas Frank – at least, that’s what the media called him. He was supposedly a businessman from France, but according to other sources, he was a crook from the former USSR who had a French passport under that name. It was he who invested money in Walid Harfuch’s practically hopeless enterprise, the LLC “United group” (tax code 22929653), which Walid opened in 1994 together with his brother and his first wife, Natalia Dementieva. He also insisted on Walid moving to Kyiv (where the enterprise was later re-registered). The fate of the mysterious Lyapen Douglas Frank is unknown, but Walid Harfuch, with the help of his money, embarked on a bustling career in advertising after moving to the capital, and most importantly, opened the FM radio station “Super Nova” (tax code 23506216), registered as a Ukrainian-Lebanese enterprise (in order to obtain benefits).
It was on “Super-Nova” that Walid Harfuch rose to national fame in Ukraine. Here, his talent for chatting and socializing was in demand, but the main factor that helped to promote “Super-Nova” was Harfuch’s original business direction – the radio was simply overflowing with advertising, including foreign companies. To attract listeners to the broadcast, everything was used: popular music, speeches by opposition politicians, reports from exhibitions and festivals. At the same time, informed sources noted that both “Super-Nova” radio and other Harfuch enterprises (the “Super” magazine, United Telecom LLC, Auto Service Plus LLC, “Dismantling Radio”) had declared zero profits or even losses for many years. Those who were familiar with these schemes understand that in this case, all the profits were simply siphoned off from taxes through various dummy companies. As for Walid Harfuch himself, he declared only 12,000 hryvnias in income for the period from 1998 to 2005 and paid 2.4 thousand hryvnias in taxes on them. Did he really live on 114 hryvnias a month? Maybe he survived on just one package of instant noodles?
Walid Harfuch benefited from his cooperation with RFI: he started broadcasting its news blocks in French and Arabic – although it is unclear for whom. It seems that this was another scheme by the Harfuch family: its head of the family arranged for “Super-Nova” to collaborate with the Embassy and Cultural Center of France in Ukraine, through which this broadcast of the “francophone world” in Ukraine was paid for. But not for long – soon the French realized that no one was listening to them in Ukraine. And “Super-Nova,” in the end, switched to propagating the “Russian world,” and this was accompanied by another scandalous story.
Eugene Rybchinsky and the failed raiding attempt
In 1999, the main competitor of “Super-Nova,” Eugene Rybchinsky, the owner of such well-known radio stations as “Nashe Radio” and “Radio Nostalgia,” made a raid on the “Super-Nova” radio. At that time, the Harfuch brothers had problems with their partners and business associates, so Walid had to make concessions and Rybchinsky became the manager of “Super-Nova.” Everyone understood that the next step would be the acquisition of the enterprise. However, Walid Harfuch called on Vadim Rabinovich for help, who had then returned to Ukraine after a scandal and “Israeli emigration,” and began to gather his own media empire, “Media International Group” (MIG). Harfuch whispered his version of the agreement to Rabinovich over a cup of coffee: Vadim Zinovyevich became the “protector,” and they would make a joint media project, in which Walid Harfuch remained the leader and top host of the radio station.
Rybchinsky retreated, but Rabinovich was excited about the idea of adding ‘Super-Nova’ to his MIG, transforming the radio station into the ‘1+1 Radio’ project. Harfuch even decided to sell his package of ‘Super-Nova’ shares to Rabinovich, but he was not the only neither the major owner of it. Therefore, something strange and unclear happened with this deal: Walid Harfuch received $200,000 for his shares, Rabinovich became a co-owner of ‘Super-Nova,’ but after some time, this deal was declared invalid in court. However, it was not Rabinovich who was deceived – judging by the fact that the Harfuch brothers still maintain friendly relations with him, and the details of this story are refused to be disclosed by the parties. According to information from local sources, the former co-owner of ‘Super-Nova’ who remained unknown (possibly Lypen Douglas Frank, possibly the person he sold his package of shares to) did not agree that the radio station would go to Rabinovich and did not want to give him his share. Then Rabinovich also abandoned the idea of absorbing ‘Super-Nova,’ and the deal was terminated in court. After that, Valid Arfuch sold his shares to other people, leaving himself 1% as a producer’s share.
The new owner of the “United group”, which owns the radio station “Super Nova”, is LLC “Alfa”, owned by Andriy Viktorov and Volodymyr Proshchenko. Interestingly, Proshchenko owns movie theaters “Moscow” and “Rodina” in Odessa, as well as radio companies in the Dnipropetrovsk and Mykolaiv regions. Andriy Viktorov is his partner, the owner of radio stations “Prosto Radio”, “Prosto Rock” and “People’s Radio”. Both of them are backed by Andriy Voznyuk – an Odessa oligarch who in the summer of 2014 spoke about the expected arrival of “liberators from the Russian world” to Odessa.
Thus, when Walid Harfuch was unable to transfer his radio station to Rabinovich for his personal political PR, he sold his shares to the propagandists of the “Russian world”. Coincidence? Yes, if it happened only once. However, several years have passed, and now his brother Omar Arfuch, who has made a name for himself as a “political scientist”, is promoting the image of Putin in France and “easing tensions around Russia”, while their former partner Rabinovich is joining the ranks of pro-Russian presidential candidates. Are there too many “coincidences”?
Walid and Omar Harfuch next attempt in human trafficking and prostitution rings
In 1997, an international beauty contest called ‘Miss Europe’ was held in Kiev. Despite already being quite scandalous in Ukraine during the 90s, it turned out to be absolutely dirty because the local ‘aristocracy’ viewed the contestants only as expensive prostitutes – and treated them accordingly. Instead of the promised ‘society ball’ at the Kiev nightclub ‘Red and Black,’ the girls were met with a terrible shock. Which is not surprising, considering that this club was known as the favourite place of the capital’s criminal underworld.
Moreover, the ‘crime authorities’ sent their people to the sanatorium in Pushcha-Vodytsia, where the contestants were staying, to ‘invite’ them to their company. Many foreign women barricaded themselves in their rooms and desperately called their embassies – since the Kiev police conveniently ignored their signals. Ireland, as well as many other countries withdrawn their contestants.
The Harfuch brothers later tried to defend the ‘criminal underworld’, shifting all the blame to the contest judge and the club staff, making the incident appear as a minor misunderstanding. And yet they were the media producers of the contest, having received this contract after a conflict arose between the European organizers of the contest and the head of the ‘Miss Ukraine’ committee, Sergey Matyash. The brothers were not just chosen at random – they had many lobbyists both in Kiev (including in the criminal underworld) and in Europe (where Harfuch’s father had French acquaintances). Considering that these contests gave access to the richest and most famous people in the world (Donald Trump judged the ‘Miss Universe’ contests), one can only imagine the value of this lucky ticket for the brothers. And they used their chance – though they ‘went’ in the wrong direction.
To be continued.