Former Amaya Gaming CEO David Baazov Trial Date Set
In a case that is now dragging on into its second year regarding a transaction from 2014, former Amaya Gaming Chief Executive Officer David Baazov now has a date set for his trial on insider trading charges.
In proceedings held last week in the Quebec Court, Judge Claude Leblond scheduled the start of Baazov’s trial for a November 20 start date. Counting in holidays, the lawyers concluded that the trial will take about 13 weeks as the prosecution plans an extensive case. The attorneys for the Autorité des marchés financiers (AMF), the province of Quebec’s equivalent of the U. S. Securities and Exchange Commission, have called the case against Baazov and two defendants the “largest insider trading investigation in Canadian history” and plan to call around 50 witnesses.
Other than the sheer number of witnesses (including some that potentially could testify via videoconference), there are other problems that are lengthening the potential trial. The trial will be conducted in French (Quebec’s provincial language) because, as explained by the Toronto Globe and Mail, the case is a penal proceeding under Quebec’s securities act. Leblond has stated that an attempt to seat a bilingual judge will be taken and that the case will have all proceedings translated as close to simultaneously as possible. The evidence in the case, strangely enough, will be presented in English.
There is no list of witnesses at hand, but employees from Amaya’s investment bank, Canaccord Genuity Securities, are expected to be called. Additionally, at least one “informant” not named previously in court documents will be called to testify, although there is no information as to whether than informant will testify anonymously or not.
The case dates back to 2014 in what was – and still is – the largest online gaming transaction in the industry’s history. The #1 online poker website in the world, the privately owned PokerStars, was approached by Amaya Gaming and Baazov early in the year about a potential buyout of the family ownership behind PokerStars, the Scheinbergs. Negotiations moved quickly and, by June, the $4.9 billion transaction was complete for the online operations and all other pertinent properties.
What the AMF were concerned about was the period prior to the actual completion of the transaction. In unveiling their case a year ago, the AMF alleged that Baazov and two other men, Benjamin Ahdoot and Yoel Altman, utilized the information they had regarding the potential deal to make stock trades “while in possession of privileged information.” Along with the trio, three companies – Diocles Capital, Sababa Consulting and 2374879 Ontario – are also charged with insider trading and attempting to alter the fair market price of Amaya’s stock. Baazov also faces a communication of privileged information charge along with the other two charges.
There seems to be at the minimum smoke where the alleged fire is located. Prior to the sale, Amaya Gaming stock was trading around $7.50 per share on the NASDAQ boards but, as the information emerged that the deal was imminent, the share price soared over $35, nearly a five-time increase. Even today, the stock for Amaya is still trading around $15 ($14.50, to be exact).
Baazov has had a tumultuous history since the allegations came out in 2016. Since the charges were brought against him, Baazov has looked to stay in charge at Amaya Gaming before eventually taking a “leave of absence” that became permanent at the end of last year. He has also entertained the notion of buying PokerStars from Amaya Gaming and taking it back into private ownership. In December, that potential deal fell through, even though Baazov and his investors were offering more than what the stock was worth at that time ($24 per share, a 30% increase over its board price).
Even with the trial date set, there is still the potential for the AMF and the defendants to strike a deal and avoid any court proceedings. This is a fact that isn’t being ignored by either side as the attorneys are not making any statements to the press regarding the case that could affect any deal discussions. If convicted of the charges they face, Baazov and company would face stiff fines and potentially lengthy jail time.
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