Dankners Demands Arbitrator in Hapoalim Spat With Arison

They claim they have the right of first refusal to buy out the Americans; Arison and the Americans disagree

The control battle between billionaire heiress Shari Arison and the distribution fees over Bank Hapoalim (TASE: POLI)  heated up some more last week. On Thursday the distribution fees company Israel Salt Industries (TASE: SALT) announced that it wanted an arbitrator to handle its dispute with Arison, who chairs Arison Investments. The Dankners own their 3% controlling interest in Bank Hapoalim via Salt Industries.

Just the day before, Arison and the Dankners indicated that they would defer addressing their differences until the Jewish holidays were over.

Under the control agreement regarding Hapoalim, which is Israel's biggest bank, either Arison or the Dankners may request the appointment of an arbitrator to decide disputes between the controlling shareholders.  From the moment of the announcement, the clock is running, and the parties have 21 days to agree on the identity of an arbitrator. If they fail to reach an agreement, the court will choose one.

Salt Industries' announcement was delivered one day after the company received a letter from the "American shareholders" regarding their view of their position. These American shareholders are Michael Steinhardt, Len Abramson and the heirs of Charles Schusterman.

The American shareholders utterly rejected Salt Industries' interpretation of the situation, according to their lawyer.

Salt Industries has the right to buy only a small part of the Americans' controlling interest in Bank Hapoalim, they wrote, not the entire (combined) 5.5% controlling interest.

(In Bank Hapoalim, the controlling interest is defined as 20% of the banks shares that are defined as the controlling core. Shari Arison owns 57% of that controlling core.)

The Americans demanded in their letter that Salt Industries reply by the end of October to their suggestion that it buy that small part of their shares.

Salt Industries also received a copy of the agreement between the American shareholders and Arison, although the Americans were not obliged to give it any such copy.

Last week Danny Dankner and Shari Arison met to try to iron out their differences, regarding the Dankners' claimed right of first refusal to buy out the Americans, which Arison wants to do herself.

Arison claims that the Dankners have no right of refusal that could block her from buying the Americans' shares in Bank Hapoalim. She claims that the Dankners' move is designed, ultimately, to manipulate her into buying their shares too. The Dankners are personally mired in debt and need the money to ease the burden.

The Arison group has nothing to add beyond what it has already said, its spokesman commented, meaning that Arison had already stated she has complete control over the bank.