The flashy lifestyle of the City financier who duped Britain's wealthiest men into handing him their money
If Nicholas 'Beano' Levene had yet to accept that the good times were over and he'd made a lot of powerful people very unhappy, he was jolted back to reality by a brutal wake-up call which came some months ago.
The British financier, who is linked to the loss of up to £200 million of clients' funds, was strolling along a City street when a van drew up at the kerb beside him.
According to a close source, several large gentlemen got out and arranged themselves around Beano. He was invited to step inside their vehicle. Not being a master of the martial arts, he felt obliged to comply. The 'mob' drove him to a large empty warehouse for a 'chat'.
There, Beano was told in terms that could only be described as blunt that unless he signed a sheaf of documents and repaid several million pounds given to him by one foreign client 'he would not be on Earth for much longer'.
'Petrified', Beano did as he was told. Matters have gone from bad to worse.
This week the London financier Beano Levene was made bankrupt and is facing a police investigation over the whereabouts of tens of millions of pounds of investment funds entrusted to him a number of business big-hitters such as Richard Caring, owner of The Ivy and Le Caprice restaurants in London.
He is also 'of interest' to other enforcement bodies who deal with allegations of large financial fraud.
So what went wrong for Nicholas Levene, a man who was given his Beano nickname on account of his extravagant lifestyle? Bigger, better, faster, flashier than everyone else - this had always been Beano's approach to life, even in the most mundane detail.
A business friend bought a large dog, for example. So Beano went out and got himself a bigger one, a Great Dane. From a distance, said the trumped and rueful associate, 'it looked like a bloody pony'.
But 'bigger, better, faster, flashier' was also the derivative trader's downfall. When the stockmarkets crashed last year, his clients' investment money disappeared.
And all the recklessly extravagant promises that he'd made them in order to get their business suddenly rang hollow.
His lifestyle, of private jets, fine art and £5 million holiday homes, aped that of the billionaire tycoons for whom he bought and sold shares.
But when the crash came, he was exposed as a sham. 'Levene should come with a government
health warning,' one associate told the Mail last night. 'He is a big, big liar.'
Now comes the reckoning. The 45-year-old father of three is still believed to be in The Priory private hospital in North London, suffering from 'stress'.
According to associates, he remains in touch with his friends outside by phone.
Today, there is much for Beano to talk about, and none of it makes pleasant listening. His family's assets and bank accounts have been frozen; his passport demanded for surrender.
There are legal charges against his eight-bedroom, mock-Tudor family home in North London, amounting to tens of millions of pounds, in the names of some of Britain's most famous business figures.
Alas, the bank accounts that he recently opened in Northern Cyprus are beyond the reach of British investigators. A small consolation. He is still in deep, deep trouble.
A friend said that his wife Tracey, 42, spends most of her time now on the phone to lawyers - 'frantically' trying to hold on to what they have, fearing that this whole situation is going to leave them penniless.
Another source told the Mail that Beano's parents and sister, who live in Israel in properties bought for them by Beano as wedding and retirement presents, have in the past 48 hours met for crisis talks.
There is a growing acceptance that the worst-case scenario may come to pass; if charges are brought, their silver-tongued golden boy, who was used to rubbing shoulders with the Queen at Royal Ascot every year, might soon be spending a good deal more time at Her Majesty's pleasure.
Beano was not born to the high life.
According to an associate who has known him for more than two decades, his was a lower-middle-class, traditional upbringing on the northern fringes of London.
The family lived in Watford and his father was a watch engineer. Beano went to Immanuel College school and left to work in the City, where the brash youth soon gained a reputation for brilliance and arrogance in equal measure.
During the Square Mile's long years of 'boom', Beano became a well known and, until recently, respected player. He worked with City 'Superwoman' Nicola Horlick and was on the advisory board of investment company MG Equity Partners and worked the hedge funds as a director of big-hitting Integrated Asset Management.
But Beano came into his own on the North London Jewish charities circuit. It was at such events that he could target big client contacts.
With endless charm, he wooed and persuaded these well-heeled clients to invest their hard-earned cash in his own unique opportunities and expertise.
One businessman source said that Beano got involved with charities because 'it made him look good and gave him access to lots of wealthy people for networking purposes'. His modus operandi was simple. He told those whom he'd targeted and groomed as potential investors that he had exclusive access to upcoming share issues.
'He told would-be investors that he had the inside track, and could get preferential treatment,' explained an associate.
'He would say that the whole transaction time - including payout - would be no longer than six weeks. Investors' cash would only be at risk for "about an hour or two".
'Part of his tactic was not to give it the hard sell at first, almost to play coy. Would-be investors were lunched and entertained with no feeling of pressure.
'That was the lure. He was very charming. In the end, they wanted to be part of his obviously successful operation.'
This 'success' was reflected in a lavish lifestyle.
Aside from the properties bought for family members, he had his own £5 million villa in the exclusive Herzliya area north of Tel Aviv. It was decorated with fine art, including at least one work by the great modernist painter Chagall.
One source, who enjoyed Beano's hospitality, said the financier habitually chartered private jets and would not think of travelling on a scheduled service unless it was first class.
'He always stays in the best hotel, and when it comes to a concert he is in the front row. Levene had to have the best of the best.'
This included private box No 302 next to the finishing post at Ascot racecourse. Beano shared the annual cost of £150,000 hire with Tony Page, who claims to be Europe's finest kosher caterer.
The rent did not include the onaverage £85 per person additional cost of each guest in their box who receives food and drink during race days.
But not everyone was happy. The first signs of serious trouble came when Beano was unable to pay a dividend he owed to an Israeli businessman and entrepreneur, Igal Ahouvi. This was behind the lawsuit taken out against Beano in July 2007 by Ahouvi.
Ahouvi had asked Beano to buy £15 million of shares in a company called Delek Global Real Estate (DGRE), which was being launched on London's Alternative Investment Market (AIM)
According to the suit, Beano was asked several times during the autumn of 2007 to transfer the shares plus dividends to a Gibraltar-based subsidiary of Ahouvi's company, Blenheim Properties.
In May 2008, DGRE disbursed a second dividend of £500,000, which Ahouvi's lawyer asked Beano to transfer to Ahouvi. Again, Beano was unwilling or perhaps just unable to make the transfer.
Ahouvi then sued Beano and his Panama-registered company, Niblick Investments, for the DGRE shares plus £1.08 million.
A source claims that Ahouvi was successful in getting Beano to repay all of this money. This did not put Beano in a good light.
Integrated Asset Management released a statement in June 2008 stating that he had 'resigned as a director for personal reasons unconnected with the company'.
A source said the real reason for Beano's departure is that he was invited to step down after he failed adequately to explain to the company's chief executive, Emanuel Arbib, what happened with Ahouvi.
In little more than a year, everything had unravelled.
On holiday in Israel this summer, Beano told family he needed a few days to be on his own and booked into a five-star hotel in the south of the country.
This was most unlike him. It is now believed he was meeting certain creditors there.
His summer vacation was also interrupted by a return to the UK to answer questions from British investigators.
By then, he was on the edge of the abyss and the forward momentum could not be resisted. By the autumn
Beano was 'a finished person', as one City associate puts it. Who, then, was burnt by his demise?
One famous name being mentioned as a claimant is that of Richard Caring, the clothing magnate who now owns some of London's most famous restaurants, including The Ivy and Le Caprice.
A source says: 'Caring only got involved with Levene quite recently. I don't know how much for yet.'
Ray O'Rourke, the chairman and chief executive of construction firm Laing O'Rourke, has also had dealings with Beano, but has so far declined to comment.
But a trawl of legal documentation held at the Land Registry reveals a number of legal charges and freezing orders against The Briars - the Levenes' £2 million North London home - which neighbours say was abandoned some weeks ago.
One, on behalf of brother-andsister Stagecoach founders, Brian Souter and Ann Gloag, states that 'the applicant is interested in the property . . . The applicants are creditors in respect of an unsecured debt owed by Mr Nicholas Levene... (who) was ordered to pay the applicants £17,754,301.40 plus interest and legal costs'.
Beano was ordered to pay the couple the full sum in July this year. It emerged that they had given him £10 million to invest in shares and when they believed they had made some £3.8million each, they asked for their profit. He did not pay them and has yet to do so.
Another document dating from December last year shows that a legal charge of $14,500,000 was made on the property by a firm called Sarnen Ventures of the British Virgin Islands.
The Levenes were described as 'the borrowers' and the sum, at 3 per cent interest, was to be paid in full in six months from that date.
Beano is also said to owe two Essex businessmen £38million and a prominent Israeli tycoon a further £18million.
An estimated £5million to £6 million is allegedly owed to members of the London Jewish community.
Last weekend, it also emerged that Levene lost £720,000 betting on a single Twenty20 cricket match last year. With interest and fees on top, that debt has risen to £1million.
A source said that his wife Tracey is 'distraught' and did not realise anything was wrong until the Stagecoach lawsuit. Even then, her husband allegedly told her that Gloag and Souter were the only people to whom he owed money.
If only. It seems that many in the City were aware of doubts over Beano for some time before the dam burst. If true, then it's not the first time warning signs have not been acted on swiftly enough in the Square Mile.
How much can be recovered? Not much probably, but the chase is on.
When a Mail reporter paid a visit to The Briars earlier this week, we witnessed a man loading several oil paintings and other pieces of furniture into two cars, which were later seen parked outside the Finchley home of Tracey's parents.
When we reported this in print, a representative of Deloitte's Contentious Insolvency Group, the accountant which has been appointed by the High Court to examine the nature and whereabouts of Beano's assets, got in touch.
She asked for a detailed eyewitness statement of what the Mail had seen being removed.
Small change, given the sums involved - unless the man was transferring another Chagall. But every little counts.
There's an old rule in the City: If it's too good to be true, it is.
For many big-hitters drawn into his web, it's a lesson relearned at the cost of not only fortune but loss of face. Beano's happy patter does not seem so comically seductive any more.