Thursday, December 23, 2004

Arafat, the bowling alley investor


Arafat, the bowling alley investor


December 23, 2004

Strike Long Island, a bowling alley and go-kart track, goes all out when it hosts bar mitzvahs. It pulls down seven large screens for showing home movies, uses glow-in-the-dark pins, has a VIP room for a candle-lighting ceremony and offers kosher catering.

Just one problem: Yasser Arafat, the late Palestinian leader, owned a piece of the action.

According to Bloomberg News, Arafat's investment adviser put more than $1 million in Strike Holdings LLC, a private Manhattan-based company that owns the New Hyde Park entertainment facility as well as Bowlmor Lanes in Manhattan's Greenwich Village and bowling alleys in Miami and Bethesda, Md.

Some patrons bowling yesterday at Bowlmor, which dates from 1938 but was spiffed up with a retro look seven years ago when Strike bought it, were bowled over when they heard the news. "Really? Wow!" said Jacob Shapiro, who had two children he baby-sits in tow. "I had no idea."

Neither, it seems, did the bowling alley's owners.

Arafat, who died last month at age 75, made the investment through SilverHaze Partners, a firm in McLean, Va., which invests money for wealthy individuals, according to Bloomberg News. It was part of $799 million of investments disclosed by the Palestinian Authority throughout the past two years, the Bloomberg story said.

One of SilverHaze's partners, Zeid Masri, went to business school at the University of Virginia with Strike founder Thomas Shannon. But apparently Masri never told Shannon where the money he invested came from and the Arafat money was part of a larger pool. Masri did not return calls.

A statement from spokeswoman Marcia Horowitz, speaking for Strike's owners, said they were "shocked" to learn the SilverHaze stake included funds from the Palestine Commercial Services Co. She said the source of the funds was never disclosed and had they known they wouldn't have accepted it. The Arafat investment represents 2 percent of the company's equity, they said.

"We have instructed our attorneys to sever the relationship with SilverHaze immediately," the owners said. Horowitz said they expect to return $1.3 million to SilverHaze by the end of today. "We do not endorse their values and do not want to be affiliated with them in any way," Horowitz said, for Shannon.

Apparently the investment wasn't a gold mine for Arafat, a controversial leader considered a peacemaker by some and a terrorist by others. Since he forked over the money in summer 2001, neither SilverHaze nor the Palestine company received dividends or payouts from Strike.

But not everyone had a problem with the connection.

Rabbi Scott Hoffman of the Lake Success Jewish Center said knowing the financial backing wouldn't affect his returning to Strike Long Island.

"It's so indirect," Hoffman said. "The real sad part is the Palestinians are quite impoverished and he stole from his own people to enrich himself." Staff writer Jamie Herzlich contributed to this story.