A Toronto businessman and friend of Amaya Inc. chief executive officer David Baazov has come under the scrutiny of Quebec’s securities regulator as part of its investigation into heavy trading in the Montreal company’s stock ahead of a $4.9-billion (U.S.) takeover last summer.
The Autorité des marchés financiers (AMF) served Montreal-based Amaya with a search warrant in December that included a request for records of communications and business dealings with the company’s long-time adviser Yoel Altman, according to people familiar with the investigation.
Mr. Altman is a chartered accountant who has financed a variety of startup companies. At Amaya, he wore a number of hats as an outside consultant who lent money, provided financial advice and became a close friend to Mr. Baazov during the company’s meteoric rise from a junior company to the world’s largest online gambling company.
Mr. Altman played a crucial role in Amaya’s 2012 purchase of Dublin-based Cryptologic Ltd., an online gaming software and service provider, by agreeing to lend a bridge loan of up to $5 million.
Mr. Altman is also one of more than 300 investors identified on a confidential list by Wall Street’s self-regulator, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), for unusually active trading in Amaya’s stock ahead of the company’s news last June that it was buying online poker giant PokerStars.
There has been no indication from FINRA or the AMF of any wrongdoing by Mr. Altman or the other investors.
Mr. Altman did not return numerous requests for comment. A woman who answered the phone at his Toronto home said he was not available.
In a statement e-mailed to The Globe and Mail, Amaya described Mr. Altman as “a long-time strategic adviser,” who provided financing to the company and market advice for more than five years.
“The board and management are taking the inquiries by regulators seriously and acting appropriately,” the statement said.
According to sources familiar with the trading investigation, Mr. Altman is one of a handful of investors with links to Amaya who have been flagged by FINRA for unusual trading in the company’s stock ahead of the PokerStars acquisition. Amaya’s stock more than doubled in price to about $14 a share in the three months preceding the takeover news. In the months after the announcement, the stock doubled again to about $30 a share.
Another investor listed by FINRA is Robert Chalmers, a Toronto stock promoter hired under contract as a spokesman for Intertain Group Ltd., an online gambling company. Amaya and Intertain have close links. Intertain bought a number of gambling assets from Amaya, which now ranks as Intertain’s largest shareholder with a 5.8-per-cent stake.
Mr. Chalmers also has a business relationship with Mr. Altman. The two men are listed as directors in a company called Portvesta Holdings Inc. that was incorporated in 2013.
Prior to his post at Intertain, Mr. Chalmers was an equity salesman with Canaccord Genuity Corp., Amaya’s investment banker since 2010 and the company’s lead adviser on the PokerStars takeover. Canaaccord, Amaya and Manulife Securities Inc. have all been served with search warrants by the AMF and all of the companies are co-operating with the investigation.
The AMF could not be reached for comment.
Mr. Chalmers declined to comment about his Amaya stock investments. An Intertain spokesperson said the company ended its contract with Mr. Chalmers on March 1.
A holding company owned by Intertain director and Toronto businessman John Fielding is also included on FINRA’s list. Mr. Fielding bought about $2 million of Amaya shares in the months before the PokerStars takeover. In an interview with with The Globe and Mail in January, Mr. Fielding said he had no inside information about the acquisition and made the investment on the advice of his broker.