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Judge Varda Alshech's decision to approve Supersol's NIS 825 million offer for Clubmarket leaves Antitrust Commissioner Dror Strum in a difficult position: His ruling will determine whether Clubmarket - Israel's third largest supermarket chain, with 115 stores, hundreds of suppliers, 3,500 workers and hundreds of thousands of customers - will be liquidated or sold to its largest rival, thereby reducing competition.

The judge may have ruled, but Strum still has the authority to veto the deal, or at least to impose severe conditions. Attorney Michal Halperin, who represented Strum at yesterday's hearing, stressed that the commissioner would impose such conditions.

Alshech insisted that this was an acquisition, not a merger. "One chain is collapsing, and a second chain is doing it a favor," she declared.

But the Antitrust Authority was unimpressed. Halperin even warned that since the sale contract calls for Supersol to purchase Clubmarket as is, Strum's conditions could cause Supersol to withdraw its offer. She therefore recommended that both Alshech and Clubmarket's trustees start searching for alternatives.

But that seems unlikely to be necessary, as Haaretz has learned that Supersol and Clubmarket's trustees already have an agreement relative to Strum's terms: Prof. Yitzhak Swary, on behalf of Supersol, and accountant Gabriel Trabelsi, one of Clubmarket's trustees, will together evaluate the economic cost of every such condition and adjust the sale price accordingly. The agreement is not part of the contract that Supersol submitted to the court yesterday, since the parties did not want Strum to feel free to impose too many conditions. Nevertheless, it means that the final price paid by Supersol could be significantly less than the sum approved by Alshech.

However, associates of Clubmarket's trustees rejected that possibility. If Strum's conditions are stringent enough to bring the price significantly below NIS 825 million, they said, the trustees would opt to liquidate the chain instead.