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Obama Choice for Ambassador to France Withdraws, Played Poker with Indicted Players

US and FranceYesterday saw an interesting sidebar arise alongside the ongoing story of the bust of a New York City gambling ring with Russian-mob connections.  Marc Lasry, a billionaire hedge fund manager thought until recently to be a probable pick by President Obama as the next U.S. ambassador to France, abruptly withdrew his name from consideration for the position this week amid speculation concerning his friendship with some of the indicted high-stakes poker players.

The 53-year-old co-founder and CEO of the global investment firm Avenue Capital Group was reportedly one of Obama’s largest donors during the 2012 election. At a fundraiser for Virginia gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe in March, former president Bill Clinton declared that Lasry had in fact been selected as the new French ambassador, an appointment that Clinton himself had recommended to Obama.

However, a major sportsbetting and gambling indictment handed down a week-and-a-half ago by federal authorities in New York appears to have potentially introduced an obstacle to Lasry’s acceptance of the ambassadorship. While Lasry denies any connection, many are speculating that his friendships with some of the 34 accused individuals — including with Illya Trincher, said to have led a U.S.-based bookmaking operation serving millionaire bettors in New York and Los Angeles — forced his stepping aside.

Yesterday The New York Post reported that Lasry had turned down the offer of appointment on Tuesday, unhesitatingly drawing a connection between the withdrawal and Lasry’s friendship with Trincher. Citing unnamed sources, the Post article reports that Lasry declined the position “only days after the White House asked the FBI to probe whether he was tied to anyone involved in the criminal enterprise.”

Meanwhile, the U.K.-based Telegraph reports that while the Manhattan-based Lasry was not only friends with Trincher but in fact played poker with him and others among the accused, a “source close to the financier” told them it had been a “complete surprise to him that they are accused of violating the law.”

Reporting on the story late yesterday, Fortune Senior Editor Dan Primack similarly cites “a source close to Lasry” confirming that Lasry “had already reached his decision [to decline the nomination] before any of this stuff came up” based on factors related to his position at Avenue.

Alluding to The NY Post‘s sketchy track record (not naming but obviously evoking recent misreporting surrounding the Boston Marathon bombings), Primack voices skepticism regarding the indictment-withdrawl link while recognizing the potential political quandary caused by Lasry’s connection to Trincher and others.

Indeed, whether Lasry knew anything regarding his friends’ connections to the alleged gambling ring is likely a moot point given the fact that any potential foreign ambassador must necessarily be vetted at a confirmation hearing by the Senate, a context in which the Lasry’s acquaintance with the recently-indicted would no doubt be explored at length.

For more analysis of the indictment and subsequent developments, see “The Multiple Rings Within the Taiwinchik-Trincher Gambling Ring,” “Poker Links to Russian Mob Sportsbook Operation Abound,” and “Impressions from the Russian Sports Betting Arraignment.”

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