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The former CEO of Edmond Safra's Republic National Bank, Dov Schlein, is a candidate to fill the vacant CEO position at Israel's largest retail bank, Bank Hapoalim. The 54-year-old Schlein, an accountant by training, started working at Republic Bank in 1976, where he filled a series of senior managerial positions until his appointment as president of the bank in 1999.

Schlein was born in Haifa and settled in the United States in the 1970s. After the sale of Republic Bank to HSBC, Schlein served as a special advisor to HSBC Group Chairman John Bond and was involved in, among other things, the establishment of HSBC's Israeli operations. After retiring from HSBC, Schlein established a financial asset management company for high net worth individuals in the New York area.

His positions at Republic Bank made Schlein the highest-ranking Israeli in the U.S. banking sector. He is in close contact with many Israeli banks, and also with the Arison-Dankner group, the controlling shareholder in Bank Hapoalim. The group has negotiated Schlein's possible appointment as CEO in the past, when Amiram Sivan still served in the position.

Schlein's name was recently raised again in the context of the search for a replacement for outgoing CEO Eli Yones; and financial sources report that an offer for the position has been made. Nonetheless, a senior banking sector source assessed yesterday that the chances Schlein would be appointed to the position were not high - among other reasons, as he would have to relocate to Israel.

In recent years, Bank Hapoalim has developed a clear strategy of expanding its foreign operations, leading to the establishment of New York subsidiary Signature Bank. The bank is engaged in private banking aimed at high net worth individuals and many of its employees and executives were recruited from Republic Bank.

Meanwhile, Bank Hapoalim is interested in acquiring Discount Bank New York, considered the largest and most successful Israeli banking operation abroad. Schlein's appointment would sharpen the emphasis the shareholders seek on developing the banks international operations.

The most prominent candidates for the position from within the bank's ranks are corporate banking chief Shy Talmon and retail banking chief Zvi Ziv.

"We have not commented in the past and we will not comment in the future until the search committee announces the appointment of a new CEO for Bank Hapoalim," the Arison group spokesman said yesterday in response to the report.