1. The Sanctuary
Nestled away on Phuket’s west coast in Thailand sits the Amanpuri Resort. Ringed by a lush jungle on one side and magnificent views of the Andaman Sea on the other, its 40 Thai-style villas gently cascade down the hillside of a former coconut plantation, guaranteeing complete privacy for the royalty, celebrities, and tycoons who have been vacationing there for more than a quarter of a century. Amanpuri is the flagship of Aman Resorts, a glittering constellation of 26 properties stretching from Asia to Europe to North Africa and the U.S. Among its habitués is a group of passionate repeat customers who call themselves “Aman junkies.” The resorts beguile them with their discreet luxury, exquisite attention to detail, otherworldly service, and breathtaking locales. One is perched on the edge of a national park in Rajasthan, India; another overlooks ninth-century Buddhist temples, surrounded by four volcanoes, in Java.
For aficionados, Aman is much more than a hotel. It’s an experience unrivaled anywhere else. At the Aman at Summer Palace in Beijing, guests have access to a secret door that opens onto the east gate of the palace gardens. At the Aman Grand Canal in Venice, they are allowed to visit the Doge’s Palace and clock tower in St. Mark’s Square after hours.
The company has long eschewed advertising, relying largely on its elite clientele to quietly spread the word. Bill Gates has been a guest. In March, Mark Zuckerberg holidayed at the Amanraya in the Turks and Caicos Islands. Just days after Novak Djokovic’s Wimbledon win, the tennis champion was married at the Aman Sveti Stefan on the Adriatic Coast in Montenegro.
As a business, Aman is considered enticing, in part because it hasn’t fulfilled its potential—producing estimated annual revenues of just $202 million and operating profits of around $45 million. Having pursued a strategy of pricey rates (rooms start at $1,500 a night), no seasonal discounting, and deliberately limited capacity, Aman has maintained its exclusivity. But occupancy runs at around 30%, compared with an average of 76% for the rest of the elite-hotel sector. As a result, Aman has seemed like a sterling-but-untapped brand that, with the right investments and strategy, could bring its profits in line with the ardor of its fans.
So last year, when DLF, India’s largest commercial real estate developer, signaled its desire to sell Aman, suitors came calling. The luxury conglomerate LVMH Moët Hennessy, the private equity titans Carlyle Group and Blackstone, and a Chinese state-owned enterprise had all made moves. In the end, however, an unlikely pair—Omar Amanat, a 42-year-old American entrepreneur, and Vladislav Doronin, a Russian property mogul in his early fifties—prevailed with a bid of $358 million.
The glow of their triumph wouldn’t last. The partnership between Amanat and Doronin imploded with a velocity exceeded only by the speed at which it was put together. Conflict erupted, with allegations of fraud, conspiracy, extortion, intimidation, breach of contract, and an attempted coup. Relations between the two deteriorated so dramatically that at one point, Doronin told Amanat, according to a claim in the latter’s legal filings, “If I feel you tried to screw me, I will hunt you down and shoot you.” A Doronin spokesperson denies the allegation.
Then came the lawsuits, massing some 30 attorneys in New York and London and featuring an international cast of characters that includes Adrian Zecha, Aman’s 81-year-old Singapore-based founder, and Johan Eliasch, the 52-year-old London-based CEO of sporting goods firm Head. A new hearing, following a series of temporary injunctions that were issued in July, was scheduled for Sept. 15 in the London High Court.
With Amanat and Doronin locked in a nasty feud as each vies for control, Aman—the word means “peace” in Sanskrit—is anything but tranquil. At stake is the future of the company. Beyond that, mysteries abound, most particularly: Who, exactly, are the two men brawling for this prize?
2. The Trader, The Supermodel, and The Poet
Omar Amanat believed he was perfectly positioned to make a deal when he heard Aman (the resemblance of the resort’s name to his surname is coincidental) was up for sale in May 2013. A professed Aman junkie who says he has invested in hotels, he notes, “It was a trophy asset, and I was interested in buying it.”
The son of Indian immigrants, Amanat grew up in Queens, N.Y., and later New Jersey. His career originated in his father’s basement. As stock trading—including the rapid in-and-out version known as day trading—became a frenzied pastime for some middle-class types in the 1990s, his dad set up a tiny operation downstairs in the family house.
At age 23, Amanat joined Datek, a well-known day-trading outfit, and he says he later helped build a stock-trading platform that let regular investors track every buy and sell order for a specific stock in real time, just as the professionals at the big brokerage houses did. In 1997 he founded Tradescape, a direct-access brokerage firm. By 2000 the company had acquired four subsidiaries, including MarketXT, and was generating estimated annual revenues of $140 million. Amanat says he fielded numerous acquisition offers. “Tradescape was the biggest day-trading company,” he boasts.
In 2002, Amanat sold Tradescape to E*Trade for $100 million in stock plus an additional $180 million if the company hit certain targets. It seemed a moment of exultation and riches, but the bubble quickly burst, and Amanat became entangled in lengthy litigation (more on that later).
Despite the turmoil of his court fight, Amanat presented a serene face to the world: a glamorous mix of wealth, elegance, and more than a dollop of substance. He was a man about town, charismatic and dashing—with a trademark scarf draped over his well-cut blazer—the sort who could seduce a supermodel (in fact, he married one: Helena Houdová, his second wife, from whom he is separated). Amanat was also fond of quoting the 13th-century Persian poet Rumi.
Left, Omar Amanat and his wife, Helena Houdová (the couple are now separated), arrive at a screening of Darfur Now, for which he was an executive producer, in 2007. Right, Vladislav Doronin and his girlfriend, Luo Zilin, at a Giorgio Armani event last fall.Photo: Kevin Winter—Getty Images
It’s not clear what Rumi said about self-promotion, but Amanat has not been shy about touting his accomplishments. Among the accolades recorded on his personal website is being named one of Wall Street’s Top 10 Most Influential Technologists and one of the Top 500 Most Influential Muslims in the World. He sat on the boards of Human Rights Watch and Malaria No More. And various Amanat-related websites credit him with co-founding the UN-affiliated Alliance of Civilizations Media Fund and Bridges TV, a television network aimed at countering negative stereotypes of Islam.
Amanat, who has been occasionally spotted at Cannes, also has his Hollywood side: He shared executive-producer credits with former eBay president Jeff Skoll on two films. An investment vehicle that Amanat and his family were part of was once the largest shareholder in Summit Entertainment, the studio behind the Twilight franchise (and since acquired by Lionsgate).
With Aman in his sights, Amanat would need to call on more than financial resources; he needed allies too. Adrian Zecha, Aman’s founder, was the first person he would have to woo.
3. The Zen Hotelier
Aman Resorts was born by accident. Zecha, the son of a wealthy Indonesian landowner, had owned magazines before migrating to the hotel business, where he co-founded the luxury Asian chain Regent Hotels. In 1986 he sold his stake for $30 million and decided to construct a vacation home in Phuket. When banks refused to lend him the money he needed to build in the inaccessible location, he brought in friends and investors. To subsidize the costs, he constructed several villas and rented them out. Thus, in 1988, Aman Resorts was created.
Aman brought a new approach to luxury lodgings. Zecha’s concept was to create an atmosphere similar to visiting the home of a friend—a very rich one with exquisite taste. His ethos was the spare, Zenlike antithesis of the grand hotel: no chandeliers, no reception desks, and no elevators. Each property was unique—run as its manager saw fit—and each took its design cues from the surrounding environment. “It’s almost indescribable how Aman works,” says Lyn Middlehurst, editor and publisher of the luxury travel bible Gallivanter’s Guide. “It comes from the top, and it’s Adrian’s vision.”
Zecha was obsessed with details. He would personally select the bedsheets and reportedly spent upwards of $350,000 on one room. When it came to location, he was single-minded. Miltos Kambourides, whose firm owns the Amanzoe in Greece, recalls that when the two joined forces in 2004, Zecha gave him very specific instructions about how the property should “be off the beaten track, have virgin nature, unobstructed views, access to a great waterfront and beach, and be surrounded by points of interest.” When Kambourides brought Zecha to his proposed site two years later, he says, “he got out of the car and simply said, ‘This is an Aman site,’” and then left.
Over the years a pattern emerged in Zecha’s ownership: He would start selling his shares and even depart the company—but he would always come back. For example, Zecha left after Colony Capital, the real estate investment fund, took a majority position in the ’90s and considered expanding the brand. Zecha then returned as chairman in 2007, when DLF, which wanted to expand into ultra-luxury hospitality, bought Aman for a reported $400 million, including debt.
The global economic collapse interrupted DLF’s growth plans, and by 2010 it was looking to unload Aman. Zecha attempted to buy the company back but couldn’t raise the financing. When Omar Amanat came calling in 2013, Zecha was negotiating to acquire the resorts in concert with Carlyle. The talks fizzled, and Amanat and Zecha met. “I told him I supported his vision,” says Amanat. “I wanted to grow and nurture this company for a lifetime. I had great ideas about how to grow the business in a way that doesn’t degrade the brand.” The two formed a partnership to pursue Aman.
Amanat says many private equity firms, companies, and individuals were eager to finance the deal. But then he heard about a billionaire named Vladislav Doronin.
4. The Billionaire
Little has been published in the English-language press about the businesses of Vladislav Doronin. Indeed, public records and even the Internet are strikingly lacking in records of his commercial interests and interactions. Doronin is often described as a Russian oligarch, a term that suggests dealings tied to political connections—a label his camp resists. “He is a self-made businessman and a gentleman,” says one associate. (Doronin declined to be interviewed, but his press and legal representatives answered questions.) The associate did offer that the billionaire is passionate about architecture, real estate, and art, adding, “He’s sporty, if you’ve seen pictures of him.” Indeed, Doronin has the muscled presence of a Dolph Lundgren.
Doronin was born in what was then Leningrad in the Soviet Union. He moved to Geneva in 1985 to work as a trader for Marc Rich, the “king of commodities,” who was infamous for fleeing the U.S. after a grand jury indicted him on some 50 counts of fraud, racketeering, tax evasion, and trading with Iran. (President Bill Clinton pardoned Rich in a controversial 2001 decision; he died last year.)
Doronin returned to Russia in the early 1990s, just as the country was transitioning to a market economy. Over the next 25 years he amassed an estimated $2.5 billion fortune in Moscow real estate.
The public details of Doronin’s transactions may be scant, but the same cannot be said of his personal life. Referred to in the British press as the “Russian Donald Trump,” Doronin is perhaps best known as the ex-boyfriend of supermodel Naomi Campbell. Before they split in 2013, the pair were regular figures on the international party circuit, photographed aboard his yacht, as well as in a fashion shoot for Russian Vogue and at his various homes around the world.
Amanat and Doronin were introduced through acquaintances on Dec. 11, 2013, at Doronin’s apartment at the Mandarin Oriental in New York. An Aman devotee himself, Doronin was enthusiastic about being part of a deal. According to one of his advisers, the billionaire viewed Aman as a jewel of an opportunity. Its private villas (some of which are sold to individuals) are the most lucrative aspect of Aman’s business, according to the adviser. Doronin’s strategy was to invest more in developing villas for sale and rental, while opening up other hotels in city centers rather than just in resort locations, Aman’s traditional focus.
Amanat struck Doronin as a highly successful entrepreneur, one who was well-off. Amanat told him he had made more than $200 million selling shares of Twitter, according to Doronin’s legal papers, and had more than $100 million in liquid assets. He said he was ready, the papers contend, to invest tens of millions of his own funds. Amanat was seeking a partner to inject additional financing. (Amanat’s vehicle for the investment was Peak Ventures, whose assets include his money as well as that of family and friends.)
Amanat’s impression of their first encounter was very different. Upon entering Doronin’s apartment, he says, he was greeted by an “inappropriate sexual painting.” Amanat claims that Doronin peppered discussion of a potential deal with crude sexual jokes. (A spokesperson denies that Doronin’s art is inappropriate; he says the billionaire doesn’t recall making sexual jokes.) In retrospect, says Amanat, “it was clearly a foreboding sign, but I didn’t know what to make of it.” Despite the apparent clash of sensibilities, Amanat liked the idea of joining forces with a deep-pocketed investor; he expected Doronin to play a passive role.
The two Aman junkies apparently craved their objective so intensely that they made only cursory attempts to vet each other. On Dec. 25, just two weeks after they were introduced, Amanat and Doronin sealed their alliance with a 13-page agreement outlining their plan to buy Aman.
Both Amanat and Doronin felt pressure to move quickly. Once they put down their $30 million deposit, they had 30 days to close the deal. Other bidders were waiting. Meanwhile, according to a Doronin attorney, other investors fell through, and the billionaire increased the amount he planned to put in several times. As he upped the number, he decided he would play a more active role in Aman. By the time they finalized the $358 million purchase on Feb. 7, Doronin had proffered cash and a loan for 64%; Amanat, Zecha, and several other investors had committed to the other 36%.
Less than nine weeks had elapsed between Doronin and Amanat’s first meeting and the sale. It would take even less time than that for the relationship to sour.
5. The Unraveling
Before the deal even closed, red flags began appearing. Doronin noticed something curious. He had paid $20 million of the $30 million deposit to hold the deal while the final particulars were negotiated. He expected Amanat to pay the remainder. But according to Doronin’s legal filings, a statement he received in early January revealed that Zecha had contributed the other $10 million. Amanat had provided no cash. In Doronin’s view, the man who had instigated the deal faced no financial risk if it fell apart.
Amanat offered shifting explanations to Fortune on this point. He first stated that the value of the deal was fluctuating and that the deposit might be increased. (Saurabh Chawla, DLF’s executive vice president of finance, says the deposit amount “never changed.”) Later one of Amanat’s press representatives asserted that Amanat thought another investor might enter and pay part of the deposit.
Either way, Doronin was getting nervous about his partner. But he had put down a lot of money, and he didn’t want to back out. Amanat claims that around January and February, Doronin threatened to scuttle the deal. Because of that, Amanat says in his court filings, he acceded to a list of demands from Doronin, including giving up one of his board seats. Amanat also claims that Doronin frisked him before a board meeting in Miami to see if he was wearing a recording device. (A Doronin spokesperson denies that the billionaire threatened to scotch the deal and says Amanat volunteered to give up control as long as Doronin didn’t dilute his stake. The spokesperson says Doronin never frisked Amanat.)
Even as that relationship crumbled, Amanat went looking for another backer—only to see the new alliance shatter equally fast. Amanat was introduced to Johan Eliasch, chairman and CEO of Head. A former deputy treasurer of Britain’s Conservative Party, Eliasch is prominent in political and business circles in London, as well as in Europe’s jet set. He once dated Sharon Stone and is friends with Prince Andrew.
Eliasch invested $25 million for a 14% stake in Aman and a board seat and loaned the company an additional $25 million. Amanat says he was flabbergasted to discover, soon after, that Eliasch was friends with Doronin. Amanat accuses him of concealing the relationship. (Eliasch, in a letter cited in the litigation, denies being in cahoots with anyone.)
Once on the board, Amanat contends, Eliasch aligned himself with Doronin, and the pair prepared to set a coup in motion. By April the battle had escalated to a full-on war.
6. The Founder resigns—or does he?
Zecha was growing increasingly troubled, according to his witness statement, over the rancor between his partner Amanat and Doronin. He was keenly aware that if the pair did not reach a quick rapprochement, Aman’s image and business would suffer. He held a private dinner with Doronin and Eliasch on April 21, the night before a scheduled board meeting. Zecha hoped he could broker some kind of peace between the two and Amanat.
During the dinner, at Doronin’s mansion in Star Island, Miami, Zecha told the men that he would be compelled to resign if the factions could not cooperate. The following day, at the end of a marathon 10-hour board meeting at the law offices of Greenberg Traurig in Miami, a frustrated Zecha followed through on his threat and told the group he was abdicating his roles as CEO and chairman.
Doronin took over as chief executive, with Eliasch becoming chairman. But the seemingly straightforward handoff instantly turned bizarre and contentious. Zecha, whose tenure was already set to end on July 31 under the terms of the sale, insisted that his resignation was not intended to be immediate and was contingent upon several conditions, including the fate of several of his longtime executives. Zecha’s witness statement in the London litigation asserts that he was intimidated into leaving. He says he was presented with a three-page notice of resignation and asked to sign it—while still at the board meeting—which left him “shocked and bewildered.” (Doronin’s filings contend that Zecha’s resignation was purely voluntary.)
The mood inside Aman’s Singapore headquarters darkened. On April 30, Zecha’s statement charges, he was prevented from entering his office. Two weeks later he was given three days to agree to vacate his home—whose lease belongs to Aman—where his family had lived for the previous 15 years. (“This is categorically untrue,” says a Doronin spokesperson, who states that “Mr. Zecha and his son continue to live in their luxurious homes.”)
Aman was now divided into two warring factions: one led by the newly appointed CEO and chairman, a second led by Amanat and the founder. Each side claimed legitimacy. Directives were issued from one side, according to an employee, only to be invalidated by the other. “We’re caught in the line of fire,” says this source. Numerous employees were abruptly let go.
Guests were still enjoying the resorts, but managers winced at the bad press. “It’s a very sensitive situation,” says one resort owner. “I don’t want the Aman name to be given the wrong exposure.” Meanwhile Aman junkies fretted about Zecha’s departure. Would the chain be overdeveloped, with cookie-cutter properties, and then flipped?
The combat between the Amanat and Doronin factions intensified. The two sides pounded each other with almost cartoonish accusations, reflected in their court papers:
Pow! Amanat claimed that Doronin fired employees and made decisions without board approval.
Slam! Doronin charged it was Amanat and Zecha who intimidated staffers, blocked emails, and changed the door locks.
Boom! Amanat alleged that Doronin used Aman to help his friends, donating Aman vacations to a Leonardo DiCaprio charity auction and setting up Doronin’s model girlfriend as the “face of Aman.”
Bam! Doronin contended Amanat and Zecha made unilateral decisions without board approval, such as creating an advisory board with former FBI director Louis Freeh on it.
It was a dizzying array of beefs and allegations. The only constant was the accused’s insistence on his innocence—and that the other party should be expelled.
In July, Amanat and Zecha took the battle to court. Three interim hearings were held before three judges to rule on motions for a series of temporary injunctions. On Sept. 15, the parties were scheduled to return to court, in part so a judge could decide whether a full trial will be held in December.
The first ruling was a victory for team Amanat. On July 14, the High Court provisionally found a “clear breach of contract” in Zecha’s removal before his tenure expired on July 31. The judge also found that “Mr. Doronin has no proper basis for calling himself CEO as matters stand,” rebuking him for “needlessly and inappropriately aggressive conduct” in locking Zecha out of his office and removing him from his house. The triumph, however, was limited, as it returned Zecha to his roles for only 17 days. Olivier Jolivet, a longtime Aman executive and Zecha protégé, was named interim CEO. Doronin approved the choice. (There was a modicum of good news for the billionaire too: The High Court rejected Amanat’s attempt to have Eliasch removed from the board.)
Reached on July 29, two days before his tenure as CEO was to expire, Zecha told Fortune he didn’t want to speak, then blurted out, “I’m holding the fort. I’m responsible to 5,000 people all over the bloody place that made Aman what it is today.” He declined to discuss the lawsuit but noted that Doronin was “Omar’s partner, not mine.”
7. A “Serial Swindler”?
On July 16, Doronin filed suit against Amanat in New York state court. The suit labels him a “serial swindler” and alleges that he fraudulently misrepresented his finances. It claims that Amanat surreptitiously used Doronin’s money to pay millions of Amanat’s obligations on the Aman deal. Amanat’s conduct, according to the filing, was part of a long-standing pattern.
To hear Doronin tell it, Amanat’s finances were a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. Even something as basic as a verification of credit turned into a gothic mystery. The billionaire charged that Amanat forged a crucial document that vouched for the assets in his investment fund. That document, according to Doronin’s filings, was “a fraud on fabricated letterhead, with a forged signature.” Amanat had provided a letter from a British brokerage firm, Fyshe Horton Finney, certifying that his investment entity had more than $140 million in its account. However, upon investigation (after the deal), Doronin’s legal papers asserted that Fyshe Horton was in the British equivalent of bankruptcy proceedings at the time of the letter and that its client assets had been transferred to another institution. Moreover, the letter had a logo for Fyshe Horton on it but was signed by Tom Evans, the CEO of a different entity called FHF Securities. The letter claimed that FHF had possession of Amanat’s assets. But according to Doronin’s filings, FHF was not registered or authorized to hold funds during this period.
Evans turned out to be a tricky person to reach. Fortune’s attempts to contact him resulted in…an email from an Amanat representative purporting to confirm Evans’s earlier statements. A call to the phone number listed on that email and on Evans’s letter landed in the offices of a U.K. solicitor; the person who answered said she hadn’t heard of FHF Securities or Tom Evans. After a series of additional emails, a person identifying himself as Evans called Fortune. He explained that FHF is a holding company that has several of the old Fyshe Horton Finney assets, Amanat’s among them. He stated, “The funds Mr. Amanat had with us in a trading account were in excess of $250 million.”
Sal Strazzullo, one of Amanat’s attorneys, contends that the London hearings have already settled any question of fraud. “With all due respect to Vlad,” he says, “Mr. Amanat has not done anything wrong. He mixed himself up with a bully that thinks he can strong-arm.”
Meanwhile, the further Doronin’s investigators probed, their filings claim, the more disturbing the discoveries: multiple instances, for example, in which Amanat overstated his roles in deals, some of which raise questions about the extent of Amanat’s assets. And Doronin reported a litany of not merely past lawsuits against Amanat—some filed by former business partners who claimed he misled them—but also a number of judgments against him.
Worse, in 2008 the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) permanently barred Amanat “from associating with any FINRA member firm in any capacity” because he “willfully and repeatedly” failed to disclose legal judgments and the existence of a past SEC investigation. (A spokesperson for Amanat says he was living in Europe at the time of the FINRA proceedings and “did not receive the relevant correspondence,” which led to a default ruling.)
Strangest of all, perhaps, Doronin’s suit noted that Amanat—the millionaire with the string of apparent successes—had actually been mired in bankruptcy for the better part of the past decade.
8. The Chauffeur and the bankruptcy
How did Omar Amanat come to find himself in the distressing straits of personal bankruptcy? Let’s allow Allan Gropper, the judge who oversaw the Chapter 7 proceeding, to explain, as he did in a 2012 hearing: “You might certainly be interested in reading how Mr. Amanat started off his Chapter 7 case, which was absolutely extraordinary. He induced his chauffeur to file an involuntary petition against him on the theory that, well, in an involuntary [bankruptcy] he could get an automatic stay against a number of creditors who are going against him, but it wouldn’t stop him from engaging in whatever transactions he wanted to…I made no finding there that he had perjured himself…on the first occasion that he appeared before this court. So I’m not saying I make any such finding now, but you can draw your own conclusions.”
To understand how Amanat came to be in bankruptcy, you have to go back to the 2002 deal in which he sold Tradescape to E*Trade. As noted, E*Trade bought Amanat’s company for $100 million worth of E*Trade stock, along with an additional $180 million if Tradescape achieved certain milestones. That’s fairly unremarkable.
What’s remarkable is how quickly the transaction melted down. The merger closed on June 10, 2002, and as part of the agreement, Amanat stayed on with E*Trade. A mere six weeks later, according to his own legal filings, he was called unexpectedly into a conference room, where a group of E*Trade executives and attorneys confronted him and fired him on the spot.
E*Trade and Amanat later traded lawsuits. E*Trade accused Amanat of concealing the fact that Tradescape was hemorrhaging money and near collapse when Amanat sold it to E*Trade. According to the suit, one executive emailed Amanat before the deal and said, “We have no money!!!! Zero. Zilch. Nada…We can’t pay any of our bills.” For his part, Amanat claimed that E*Trade had intentionally sabotaged its own acquisition and committed fraud, in part by not disclosing that it paid its then CEO $90 million in a single year. Amanat’s suit also claimed that an investor had threatened the lives of Amanat and his family. (An Amanat spokesperson says Tradescape was “highly successful” and contends that it failed because of a rapid decline in E*Trade stock, which left Tradescape unable to pay a series of employee bonuses.)
Those events led to two bankruptcies in 2004, one for Amanat’s company MarketXT and one for Amanat himself. They generated a multiyear profusion of hearings, motions, rulings, and at least one appeal. After many detours the court entered a $24.3 million judgment against Amanat, and a final settlement was reached in 2012. Amanat himself asserts that he has paid his settlement. But Lester Kirshenbaum, lead attorney for the creditors, disputes that; he says Amanat has yet to finish paying it off. (E*Trade and Amanat dropped their suits against each other. E*Trade ultimately released $40 million in shares it had held in escrow to the bankruptcy estate of MarketXT.)
Before the case was over, the bankruptcy judge, Gropper, found that Amanat executed fraudulent conveyances, deceived creditors, and backdated documents. For example, in the spring of 2004 a former investor in Tradescape who had won a $6.7 million judgment against Amanat attempted to take legal possession of a house Amanat owned in Queens. He discovered that Amanat had just sold the house to his brother for $10, with the sale document, notarized by Amanat’s mother, listing the date of sale as August 2003. Amanat protested his innocence, but ultimately the court nullified the transfer to his brother, and the bankruptcy trustee sold the house—for $390,000—to pay Amanat’s debts.
In a separate state case, an appeals court upheld a ruling that Amanat had refused, in a “willful and contumacious” manner, to comply with six court orders to produce documents. A spokesperson denies Amanat engaged in fraudulent behavior or ignored discovery requests and says he “strongly disagreed with the judge’s conclusions in this case.” As for the house transfer, the spokesperson says, “Under normal conditions individuals are allowed to transfer anything to anyone for some or no consideration. We could not predict the bankruptcy filings that occurred a year later, and transactions such as this are unfortunately routinely unwound during bankruptcy.”
The trustee’s final account in Amanat’s personal bankruptcy stated that $209 million in claims had been “asserted” against Amanat, of which $39 million were “allowed.” Of that figure, $658,350 was distributed to claimants, with another $1.4 million used to pay administrative costs.
9. “Not intended to be a commitment”
The Doronin litigation is not the only legal challenge Amanat faces from the Aman acquisition. A second suit alleges that, even as he courted Doronin in late 2013, Amanat was apparently talking to another firm that was going to help him raise capital: Amanat allegedly agreed to an exclusive agreement with New York’s Vinland Capital Investments to raise money for the Aman acquisition. Amanat later spurned Vinland, which is now suing him for breach of contract. Amanat’s filings contend the claims should be dismissed because, among other reasons, “he did not execute the Dec. 13, 2013, agreement in his personal capacity and thus was not a party to the operative agreement.”
Amanat provided a number of documents to Fortune to back his assertion that he had several financing commitments before he met Doronin. None of the papers could be independently verified, and many were marked “not intended to be a commitment.” None had signatures. Amanat also provided a financial statement with no bank name or logo on it. He repeatedly promised to provide recordings of Doronin threatening him, but never did.
Amanat says he is standing his ground. He has a history of fighting back. Three years ago he sued four publications in Britain, where libel laws favor plaintiffs, after they called him an “imposter” for overstating his relationship to the Summit movie studio. The publications ultimately retracted the articles, apologized, made charitable donations in his name, and paid his legal fees. (A search of legal filings shows no sign that Amanat sued the U.S. website that first revealed a letter written by a Summit lawyer to Amanat. That letter accused him of inflating his connection to the studio. Amanat’s lawyer at the time described the claims as “false” and “defamatory.”)
Amanat insists Doronin is just maneuvering for position while he himself is motivated by principle. “This is about doing the right thing,” he says. “Get the story right. I didn’t want to get in a battle with a Russian oligarch. I realized that I needed to do the right thing by the brand, by Adrian and the customers. Otherwise, I could take the money and run. I could make a fortune on this.”
Perhaps he still will. As the warring parties prepare to face off once more in a London court this month, it’s unclear who will win. The biggest loser, however, is certain: Aman.
This story is from the September 22, 2014 issue of Fortune.