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With the release of its financial statements yesterday, Africa Israel (TASE:AFIL1) reported 2003 as one of the best years in its corporate history.

Operating profits for the massive investment concern reached an unprecedented NIS 286 million. Even more importantly, however, 2003 was the year Africa Israel entered the Tel Aviv 25 (the Maof index), and its commensurate market value crossed, for the first time, the $900 million level.

Interest in the company was also reflected in the share's rise of 82 percent in the past 12 months.

The company controlled by Lev Leviev netted NIS 35.5 million in the fourth quarter of 2003, compared with NIS 7 million in the last quarter of 2002.

Its fourth-quarter performance lifted its net profits for the year to NIS 121 million, up 5 percent. The main impetus for the restored profitability was construction and real estate operations, mainly overseas, which contributed an operating income of NIS 98 million in the last quarter, up 118 percent from the parallel.

Leviev can look back now with satisfaction at his investment in the company. Seven years ago he bought control of Africa Israel according to a company value of $400 million.

To compare, the Dankner family bought control of Bank Hapoalim in the same year, and while analysts were praising the latter, they were fearful for the future of the former. Some even warned that Leviev would fail to meet his bond repayments.

But the rising share, together with the dividends - Africa Israel announced a distribution of NIS 180 million yesterday - has brought the company to a value of $980 million.

For the year 2003, its construction and land deals generated profit of NIS 201.8 million, up 48 percent, while its revenues increased 15 percent to NIS 2.62 billion. Of this, NIS 868 million was generated in the fourth quarter.

However, not all was rosy. The Russian-language television channel in Israel, which started broadcasts in November 2002, lost NIS 59.2 million in 2003, on top of the NIS 26 million it lost in 2002.