The British investment group Apax, along with former Israeli media mogul Haim Saban and Israeli Mori Arkin of Perrigo-Agis Industries, won the tender to buy the state's controlling interest in Bezeq. Apax-Saban-Arkin agreed to pay $972 million for 30 percent of the company's stock, which values Bezeq at $3.24 billion, after a dramatic pricing process that lasted several hours. The group also received a four-year option to buy an additional 10.66 percent of the telephone company's stock.
The price is almost the same as Bezeq's market cap on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange.
Apax's chairman, Sir Ronald Cohen, is expected to immigrate to Israel and take over as Bezeq chairman.
The group won the tender after three rounds of bidding, even though its rival. WhitePoint group, headed by Packard Bell co-founder Benny Alagem, along with The Israel Phoenix Assurance Company and several investment funds, did not file a bid in the final round. The Alagem group's bid fell some $100 million short of the Apax-Saban-Arkin bid.
The winners will borrow about $500 million in non-recourse loans to finance the deal from a consortium of Israeli banks led by the dominant duo, Bank Hapoalim and Bank Leumi. Shares in Bezeq will serve as collateral for the loans.
As for Bezeq, the takeover should have far-reaching implications. The company can be expected to become much leaner, and to start distributing dividends to shareholders, probably at an annual pace of NIS 1 billion. About 2,000 workers are likely to lose their jobs due to the deal.
Even though the result is in, the Government Companies Authority has yet to announce the winner officially.
Privatizing Bezeq does not bring good tidings for most consumers, since it is a monopoly that benefits from a lack of competition in landline communications.
The goal of the new owners is to make Bezeq as efficient as possible, even at the cost of a decline in customer service. They are also expected to raise prices by as much as permitted by regulators.
The consortium came to an agreement in principle with company workers regarding efficiency measures. The two sides agreed that workers would not object to reorganization, which mainly covers mass firings and structural changes from a company divided by regions that operate independently to one national company with four departments. The workers will also agree to an accounting-legal step of reducing company capital that will enable it to increase dividends. In return, many workers will receive improved conditions for taking early retirement.
Who's Mori Arkin?
Arkin was a millionaire even before he sold Agis Industries, the drug company his family founded, to Perrigo.
Arkin inherited Agis at the tender age of 19. Moreover, he is the person who lifted Agis to its international status.
After selling Agis, Arkin had more than $300 million, which made him one of Israel's most liquid individuals. The cash gave him the means to do almost any deal making the rounds, and he opted for Bezeq.
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