NICOSIA — An Israeli billionaire said to owe money to Russian business partners narrowly avoided being assassinated on Cyprus after reportedly being tipped by authorities a hit man was waiting for him.
The target, said The Times of Israel, was Teddy Sagi, who left Cyprus after being warned, reported Israel's Channel 12 News. He is a well-known Israeli-Cypriot businessman who founded the gambling software company Playtech and owns Camden Market in London.
The report said that Sagi, 49, would have walked into an ambush from a hired Azerbaijani killer which Walla News said has a Russian passport. Russians have a huge presence on Cyprus.
Sagi fled the country at the last minute, with Ynet reporting the assassin, who was not named, was later arrested on Cyprus after he crossed the Agios Dhometios checkpoint in Nicosia from the Turkish-occupied northern side.
The attempted attack was originally thought to be an Iranian plot to target Israelis, but authorities now believe it was specifically against Sagi, and Iran may not be involved at all. According to Forbes, Sagi is worth $5.6 billion, and is the fourth-richest person in Israel.
Cyprus is home to about 3,500 Jews. It is a particularly popular vacation destination for Israelis, at less than an hour’s flight from Tel Aviv, the newspaper said.
The BBC said the alleged hitman arrived from Russia about three weeks earlier and was under police surveillance, with Cypriot media reporting he had a gun with a silencer in a case when arrested, the report not confirmed by police.
Both the Israeli Prime Minister's office and Sagi's company, denied he was the target without explaining why he fled the country then. "This is a foiled Iranian terrorist incident," the company said in a statement. "The target for the assassination is not Teddy Sagi but Israelis in Cyprus. Unfortunately, it is so easy to publish incorrect information and damage a person's name."
Other Israeli media reports said the plot might be linked to business disputes involving Sagi, whose businesses online gambling and real estate but media reports were mixed, contradictory and swirling.
Israel's Kan public broadcaster said the attack attempt was a response to the assassination in 2020 Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, the head of Tehran’s nuclear program, said killed by an Israeli Mossad intelligence agency team using a computerized machine-gun.
No source was cited by Kan which said it was unclear if alleged targets on Cyprus were picked because they were Israeli, or because they were thought to be tied to Israeli intelligence.