Apax Partners could make the antitrust investigation into Tnuva go away if it pays for the pleasure, business sources said on Monday. It wouldn't be setting a precedent. A year ago Apax, an international investments fund, paid the state NIS 150 million to close a criminal investigation into securities violations at Psagot, Israel's biggest investments firm. Industry observers think that making the case against Tnuva disappear could cost Apax NIS 300 million.

Asked if Apax is planning to offer the Antitrust Authority money to end the Tnuva investigation, the fund dismissed the suggestion. Tnuva declined to comment.

The antitrust investigation into Tnuva is in its infancy. Two weeks ago antitrust inspectors raided Tnuva's offices in Cinema City, Herzliya, seizing 27 boxes of papers. Zehavit Cohen, Tnuva's chairwoman until two weeks ago, and other company chiefs were summoned for questioning.

Officially, the investigation is into the company's failure to deliver documents to the Antitrust Authority, but in practice it's expanded to the question of whether Tnuva abused its monopolistic position to raise prices more than would be reasonable. Sources in the know claim the paperwork reveals open correspondence about Tnuva's pricing.

When taking the job of antitrust commissioner five months ago, David Gilo remarked that monopolies should come under closer scrutiny. Tnuva is apparently the first to come under the purview of his new policy.

Aside from Cohen, the Antitrust Authority also questioned Tnuva CEO Arik Schor and the company's legal and economic advisers. The questions were confined to alleged concealment of documents.

To prove criminal intent, the Antitrust Authority has to prove that Tnuva indulged in predatory pricing that hurt either the competition or consumers. The question is whether the authority can prove that Tnuva's price increases reached the point of being predatory.