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Bank Leumi, one of the major creditors hit by Clubmarket's collapse, is examining the possibility of buying the supermarket chain as part of a consortium with other creditor suppliers, according to sources.

The bank has held talks with the court-appointed trustee managers of Clubmarket, Shlomo Nass and Gabi Trabelsi, in recent days and with Antitrust Commissioner Dror Strum, sources say. Leumi denied any such negotiations.

Clubmarket filed for court protection from its creditors earlier this month after running up debts of NIS 1.4 billion, which it owed to suppliers, large and small, and to four banks. Among the creditors are the banks Leumi (owed NIS 227 million), Hapoalim (NIS 188 million), Israel Discount (NIS 50 million) and First International (NIS 34 million). Suppliers include Strauss-Elite (owed NIS 65 million), Tnuva (NIS 47 million), Unilever (NIS 35 million), Coca-Cola (NIS 28 million), Sano (NIS 26 million) and Tempo (NIS 11 million). Clubmarket also owes money to hundreds of small companies, which banded together this week to show a united front.

Nass and Trabelsi, who estimate the value of the chain at some NIS 500 million, are looking for a quick sale of Clubmarket as a going concern, and do not reject proposals to buy from the company's creditors.

Yesterday, Gilad Zilberberg, representative of the Small and Medium Businesses Committee of the Manufacturers Association, called for special assistance for those hit by Clubmarket's troubles. "The banks should grant temporary loans to all those hit by Clubmarket. They should do this immediately, because if they drag their heels, some of the manufacturers won't be able to meet their payments to suppliers and employees. The loans should be offered for a couple of months until the sale of Clubmarket is completed.

"These loans will give oxygen and breathing space to those businesses that can't meet their next payments," Zilberberg said.

Zilberberg added that the Manufacturers Association is also talking with the government about granting long-term financial assistance for those harmed by Clubmarket.

Uriel Lynn, president of the Federation of Israeli Chambers of Commerce, called on the treasury to change the VAT rules such that suppliers, like those hit by Clubmarket, in which they supplied the goods but are yet to be paid, and are in doubt as to whether they will ever be paid, should be exempt from VAT on those goods. Lynn said a deferral of VAT payments was not good enough.