Conman made SA Jewish community part of scam
In late May 2021, the South African Jewish community was feeling especially vulnerable after weeks of anti-Israel sentiment. So, when an Israeli newspaper reported that a man with seemingly strong influence had threatened to pull funding from South Africa if President Cyril Ramaphosa didn’t dial back the anti-Israel rhetoric, many members of the community shared the news.
But the message was from a sophisticated con-artist who was drawing the South African Jewish community into his web of deception. Now, another victim of the man who calls himself David E. Sassoon has come forward, telling the SA Jewish Report that Sassoon is a “sophisticated scammer” who plays on people’s emotions – even the emotions of an entire community – and uses them for his own game.
The man has come forward because of dynamics abroad. In June 2021, the Jewish Chronicle in the United Kingdom wrote an article describing Sassoon as “a conman who threatened South Africa” in his latest scam, following a number of articles it had written about him in the past.
Sassoon immediately tried to sue the Jewish Chronicle. But the SA Jewish Report understands that in mid-September, a Washington DC judge threw the lawsuit out, and Bruce Fein, the DC-based lawyer who brought the case against the Jewish Chronicle (and was on Sassoon’s board of directors), has parted company with Sassoon.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, the source says, “Don’t do business with the man who calls himself David E. Sassoon. We don’t know if that’s even his real name. He’s a sophisticated scam artist and fraudster. But we were blinded by him.”
In his letter, Sassoon said he would pull $40 million (R590 million) of investment in Johannesburg energy company Bluedrop and a further $50 billion (R737 billion) of investments in South Africa over the next five years if the South African government continued its “bias or hostility, especially based on false narratives, lies, and deception” about Israel. It sounded like solid support of the Jewish community, but beneath it was a shaky foundation.
First, the threat to Ramaphosa wasn’t reported in any media except one Israeli newspaper. In South Africa, journalists were reporting the opposite – that David E. Sassoon planned to invest in the country as well as in local start-up Bluedrop Energy. It appears both stories were fed to particular media outlets who took them at face value.
Another discrepancy was that Sassoon gave Ramaphosa a “deadline” of 20 May 2021 to respond to his threats, but on 26 May 2021, the South African media started reporting the opposite – that the Sassoon Group had approved $50 billion (R737 billion) for possible investment in South Africa over five years.
The South African Jewish community was therefore being used as a pawn in a wider game, with Jews around the world sharing extracts from Sassoon’s letter to Ramaphosa, as reported in the Israeli newspaper. The wider media was also drawn into Sassoon’s lies. News articles about his supposed investments in South Africa remain online today.
When the SA Jewish Report requested the full letter to Ramaphosa, it was filled with spelling and grammatical errors and emotional statements which didn’t add up. The letter also cited the address of Sassoon’s Tel Aviv branch. But when the SA Jewish Report checked this address, it was simply a place to rent a desk. One of the desks was rented by Einat Friedman who is described as “vice-president of public relations for J. Sassoon Group and the spokesperson for the Sassoon family and the Sassoon Family Continuation Trust”.
In his communication, Sassoon said he had bought 51% of “Friedman PR” for $25 million (R428 million), yet the PR company was operating from one desk in Tel Aviv. The source doesn’t know why Friedman’s company would collude with Sassoon, but he says that as far as he knows, they continue to work together.
“The thing is he blows up massive numbers, and when you convert that to rands, it comes to ridiculous amounts – like 30% to 40% of our GDP [gross domestic product],” says the source. “It’s almost like he was saying he was going to buy the country.”
While the source can only guess as to why Sassoon would want to draw the Jewish community into that narrative, he guesses it was one way for Sassoon to see how far he could go, and maybe even make it look like the Jewish community was supporting state capture or trying to control the government, in line with antisemitic tropes.
The source says Bluedrop Energy was introduced to Sassoon through a mutual associate. “He immediately made promises to invest. They found his website, which looked reliable, and saw that his board of directors had a lot of credible people. It also saw that there were issues regarding his reputation, as described by the Jewish Chronicle in the United Kingdom.”
While this was a “red flag”, the start-up believed that the people around Sassoon gave him enough credibility. “He also explained that he was from an ‘intelligence background’, and they don’t always do things ‘above board’,” says the source. “He sounds very educated and understands business, especially in the United States and international markets.”
Bluedrop Energy lost $48 000 (R823 382) to Sassoon, and never saw a cent of investment. “Bluedrop realised all was not as it seems when Sassoon started demanding that they make payments to him. He would get very angry, throwing his toys out of the cot.” The start-up was also made aware that he owed thousands to another company which had done feasibility studies on Bluedrop Energy for Sassoon. “This international company thought he was legitimate. It was a very elaborate scam.”
Though Bluedrop was already wary of Sassoon, it was his letter to Ramaphosa that made the start-up break ties with him. In an official statement, the company told the SA Jewish Report that “Bluedrop Energy is the one who terminated the contract with J. Sassoon Group. Bluedrop took serious exception to his threats and demeaning letter towards our president, Mr Cyril Ramaphosa. We tried hard to convince him to withdraw his letter addressed to President Ramaphosa, but these efforts were in vain. We support and respect all the recognised leaders and structures of the South African government.
“In addition, we took serious exception to Mr Sassoon’s disrespect for the South African media, the South African Jewish Board of Deputies, and the South African Jewish community in general.”
The source says Sassoon wanted to write more letters to Ramaphosa, but Bluedrop stopped him. “The Jewish community in South Africa has its own leadership, and doesn’t need him to interfere,” he says.
The anonymous source believes Sassoon gets away with it because he seems to have a credible group of supporters on the board of his so-called company, who “allow him to hide behind their reputations”. Though he doesn’t know why upstanding and well-known members of society would allow Sassoon to use their names, he guesses that maybe they benefit from the arrangement.
Sassoon, he says, “lives off what he scams [from] people” and he may be working with his wife, Sharon Levy. “The United States government needs to call him to book because he uses it, knowing that the US has high standing in the international business community. He uses that in his scam.”
Meanwhile, the source says Bluedrop’s composite cylinder manufacturing plant project is still on track, and its official termination of the contract with J. Sassoon had no impact on the project. They are already in talks with reputable potential funders who have expressed interest in the project.”