Volume 74, Number 34 | December 29 - January 04, 2004

Villager photos by Ramin Talaie

Thomas Shannon, Strike Holdings C.E.O., at press conference last week at Bowlmor

Arafat money rolls a gutter ball at Bowlmor Lanes

By Hemmy So

Despite conducting major damage control after the recent revelation that late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat invested money in New York-based Strike Holdings, owner of Bowlmor Lanes in Greenwich Village, the popular bowling alley has not seen a decline in business.

“We’ve seen a tremendous amount of positive support from the community,” said Thomas Shannon, Strike Holdings C.E.O. “We’ve gotten a number of really supportive e-mails from around the country.”

For a venue that hosts a steady stream of bar mitzvah and bat mitzvah parties during the year in addition to various corporate events, Bowlmor had a major reputation to protect. Shannon said that Strike Holdings’ quick decision to return the $1.3 million investment and sever all ties with those investors has been applauded by community members.

“We had a lady call on Friday who said, ‘What you guys did was really right, I’ll be there to show my support,’ ” Shannon said. “I’d say that’s very, very typical of the response we’ve gotten. It’s unanimous — everyone thinks we did the right thing. We sort of took a stand to do the right thing, and it wasn’t cheap to do the right thing. It’s not easy to raise that much money.”

Strike Holdings posted a statement from Michael S. Miller, executive vice president of the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York, on its Web site. “We are pleased with the position and actions set forth in the statement issued today by New York-based Strike Holdings LLC and we hope that this disturbing incident will raise awareness for the need to increase the transparency of these kinds of investments in American companies,” Miller said in the statement.

Rabbi Niles Goldstein from The New Shul in the West Village, who along with the congregation’s youth group has bowled at Bowlmor, echoed Miller’s sentiments. “I think they’re doing the right thing by taking the steps they’ve taken so far and through the statements they’ve made,” he said. “I think that clearly Strike Holdings as well as any corporation should redouble their efforts to be diligent about where their money is coming from. I wouldn’t say I’d never bowl [at Bowlmor] again. Their parent company certainly should take whatever blows come to them with humility because they were not diligent.”

At a Dec. 23 press conference held at Bowlmor, Shannon expressed “shock and outrage” at the fact that the Palestine Commercial Services Company had invested $1.3 million in his company. The funds made their way to Strike Holdings through Onyx Funds, a holding company created by SilverHaze Partners LLC, a private equity fund based in McLean, Va., on behalf of Arafat’s Palestinian Investment Fund.

SilverHaze managing partner Zeid Masri was Shannon’s classmate in business school. But Shannon quickly moved to sever his relationship with Masri and SilverHaze Partners as soon as he discovered the Arafat investment through an article in Bloomberg Markets Magazine.

“Strike was always led to believe that these monies came from wealthy families. At no time was Strike informed that any of the monies being invested came from the P.C.S.C.,” Shannon said at the press conference.

According to Shannon, the $1.3 million investment represented less than 2 percent of Strike Holdings’ equity, and Onyx never saw any money from the investment.

Shannon cited Bowlmor’s good reputation as a major factor in keeping up business. “People gave us the benefit of the doubt,” he said. “When we made a public statement, it was a big relief to a lot of people who didn’t want to assume the worst about it.”

Rabbi Goldstein commented on the often confusing trickle-down effect of investments and the complexities of determining whether money or even everyday goods come from a corrupt or undesirable source. Though he holds its parent company to a higher standard, Goldstein believes Bowlmor spokespeople who assured the public they knew nothing of the Arafat investments. “I’m taking their comments at their word,” he said.

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