Elsztain and Ben-Moshe to take control of Israel's IDB

TEL AVIV (Reuters) - Argentinian businessman Eduardo Elsztain and his Israeli partner Moti Ben-Moshe won ownership of IDB Holding Corp IDBH.TA on Tuesday after an Israeli court approved their rescue plan for the highly indebted conglomerate.

Argentine businessman Eduardo Elsztain (C) attends a hearing at the Tel Aviv District Court August 25, 2013. REUTERS/Amir Cohen

Their takeover, however, will only come into effect after they disclose the full details of where their financing will come from, the Tel Aviv District Court ruled.

The decision puts an end to a high-profile battle over who will head IDB, which through its pyramidal structure controls several major companies in Israel.

“I think we can cut layers and cut costs and that will be part of the strategy,” Elsztain told Channel 10 News, adding he believed an Israeli CEO would be appointed to IDB and the future board of nine directors would include three independents.

Ben-Moshe has in the past said he would provide the judge with any information required, while IDB’s outgoing controlling shareholder, Nochi Dankner, promised to keep fighting.

Trade in IDB’s stocks and bonds was halted just before the court’s decision at 1100 GMT and did not resume for the rest of the session. Prior to that, its shares were up 11.7 percent on Tuesday.

IDB expanded rapidly over the past decade under Dankner, whose rival proposal was rejected last week by creditors, but has been hit hard by slowing economic growth and increased competition in its markets.

It also suffered losses on some poor investments, such as a major land deal in Las Vegas sealed just before the U.S. real estate market crashed and a couple of offshore gas drilling operations that came up dry.

Dankner, for long one of the most influential businessmen in Israel, said he still believes he will keep control of IDB.

“I believe in Israel’s court system and its decisions, and the last word has yet to be spoken,” he told reporters outside the courtroom after a deal reached between IDB creditors and the new owners was upheld.


IDB Holding owes bondholders 2 billion shekels ($570 million) and its subsidiary IDB Development IDBHD.UL owes a further 5.8 billion.

Since the start of the financial crisis there have been a number of so-called haircuts by large Israeli companies, angering pension funds and other institutional investors that hold the debt, as well as the public and politicians.

“The precedent of IDB redefines the rules of the game between institutions and controlling shareholders who don’t meet their obligations,” said the Psagot Investment House, which led the bondholders’ negotiations.

IDB, whose list of units includes Cellcom CEL.TA, Israel's biggest mobile phone operator, and leading supermarket chain Super-Sol SAE.TA, has been selling off stakes in other assets, like Given Imaging GIVN.TA, MA Industries and Credit Suisse CSGN.VX, to raise cash.

Elsztain is chairman and chief executive of IRSA IRS.BA, Argentina's biggest real estate company. He also serves as chairman of Cresud CRE.BACRESY.O, a major agriculture producer.

He initially supported Dankner during the lengthy debt restructuring process, but in July backed out of the partnership. On December 9, he and Ben-Moshe won support from 75 percent of the votes of bondholders and bank creditors to take over.

Their proposal included a cash injection of 650 million shekels into IDB Development and a 300 million shekel payment, along with the allocation of 46.7 percent of IDB Development, to creditors.

Ben-Moshe has said the funds for IDB would come from units of his German-based Extra Group - primarily from its energy and telecoms companies.

In a 48-page ruling, the judge said the group’s creditors would lose about 30 percent of their investment.

($1 = 3.51 shekels)

Additional reporting by Steven Scheer and Maayan Lubell; Writing by Ari Rabinovitch; editing by Tom Pfeiffer and David Evans