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The Safra family received many approaches in recent months for their controling stake in First International Bank, many of them higher than the $90 million they got from Zadik Bino and the Liberman family of Australia on Sunday, according to sources.

Among those that had approached brothers Moise and Joseph Safra were British businessman Sir Bernard Schreir, diamond merchant and businessman Benny Steinmetz as well as insurance and banking tycoon Shlomo Eliahu. According to the source, First International Bank's chairman Shlomo Piotrkowsky was also involved in one of the offers, though not as an investor.

The offers that were turned down become all the more fascinating, as they were around 60 percent of the bank's shareholders' equity, while Bino-Liberman's successful offer was for only around 50 percent of the shareholders' equity. One possible reason for the Safras' preference for Bino-Liberman was the simplicity of the deal - the winning bidders made clear that they would not carry out a due diligence on the bank as part of the acquisition - as well as Bino's expected ease in getting the approvals from the relevant authorities.

Sir Bernard Schreir is no stranger to the banking scene. He held until recently 14 percent of Bank Leumi (UK)'s capital before selling it to Bank Leumi. He also held an option in the past to buy 49 percent of Mercantile Bank, which he passed on. Schreir was also part of a bid two years ago for Israel Discount Bank. The sale was never completed.

The Bino-Liberman group bought on Sunday 52 percent equity of FIBI Holdings which is a major shareholder of the First International Bank, one of the five largest in the country.

Trading in FIBI group shares had been suspended Sunday on the announcement of the sale. Yesterday, their trade was reopened, and all FIBI group shares rose by 4-5 percent, bucking the trend.