The story of Shabtai Kalmanovich, resumed in just four short and amazing paragraphs in the Daily Telegraph, is a challenge that a thriller writer would have to be very inventive to match. Kalmanovich, it appears, emigrated to Israel from his native Lithuania in 1971. Lithuania was then a fully-fledged Soviet republic, and by the look of it the KGB must have already recruited Kalmanovich. Once an Israeli citizen, he joined the Labour party, worked as a parliamentary aide, and is reported to have “penetrated Golda Meir’s government on behalf of the KGB.” Detected, he fled to Africa in the 1980s but was extradited to Israel to serve five years in prison. Then, in an intelligence deal in 1993, he was handed back to Russia where he evolved somehow into a prominent businessman with links to the Russian mafia.
A few days ago, a gunman in Moscow killed him by firing about 20 shots into his chauffeur-driven Mercedes. One would like to know the ins and outs of Kalmanovich’s doings as an agent (posing as a double agent?) in Israel, of how the Israelis persuaded some African government or other to return him, and the nature of that intelligence deal with the Russians. Mossad or the successors to the KGB may have wanted to settle scores, but disgruntled Africans or Russian mafiosi are just as likely to have had reasons to take him out. Was he a victim of circumstances, navigating the times with a certain black brilliance, or just an utter crook?