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Builder Eli Barashi promises to return the money. All of it. "I, Eli Barashi, will work day and night to repay the money, down to the last shekel. The important thing is to maintain my reputation," says the owner of Eli Barashi & Sons Earthmoving Works & Development.

Barashi & Sons owes NIS 64.4 million to creditors, aside from debt to Barashi himself. Last week the company took shelter under the court's wing. It asked for a stay of proceedings, which was granted until the end of the month. This week the court will discuss whether to extend the stay. Barashi, 55, father of four and a grandfather: "I invested NIS 9 million of my own money in the company. I believe in it and in my own abilities. The company is a going concern and will remain one if permitted. I'll surprise everyone."

That said, "How do I feel? Very bad. There are 500 families whose livelihood comes from this company, including employees and suppliers. This is no life. I've already scaled back my standard of living. I've been threatened. I'll sell assets. Even live in a mobile home if I have too," Barashi said.

Barashi founded the company, which today has 72 employees, in 1981.

In 1986, brother Sasson joined the business, together with Eddie Weinstein, and for a time it operated as Eli and Sasson Barashi & Sons Earthmoving Works & Development. In 1999 Weinstein moved on following differences of opinion. He died soon thereafter.

In 2000 Sasson also left the company and was released from his liabilities in respect to it. Eli has often had to distance himself from Sasson, who became associated with the crime family Abargil and eventually served 14 months in prison for defrauding Trade Bank of NIS 10 million. Eli removed Sasson from the company's name and brought in his own

children as partners.

But 2000 was not a good year. Barashi & Sons racked up NIS 20 million in debt. The father sold his house and car, and even broke his kids' savings, and within two years had repaid the money. He also had NIS 80 million in projects on the books.

In 2005, a year after the company got back on its feet, Eli Barashi contracted with the the Defense Ministry to carry out earthworks near the Green Line and for the West Bank separation fence. The original contract was for NIS 176 million, but the scope of the work was scaled down and currently stands at just NIS 50 million.

In his plea for protection from creditors, Barashi blames the company's difficulties mainly on the Defense Ministry. It's holding back NIS 11.5 million in payments and has caused the company NIS 23 million in damage, he says. Ergo, it owes Barashi NIS 34 million.

"I got into the Defense Ministry projects only a year after the company had stabilized, and all our difficulties began again," he says. "We had signed contracts, we started to work and issued invoices. Soon after that we were told to stop the work." Nobody at the Defense Ministry will talk to him, Barashi says, and meanwhile he has no work, only liabilities.

Another family firm is in similar trouble. Brother Shalom Barashi founded Biri Barashi Land Works, Development, Infrastructure & Roads and floated the company in 1988, then held a secondary offering in 1994. In January 2007, works it was doing for the Defense Ministry were halted. Biri's statements show that at the time the ministry told it to suspend building the separation fence in the Judean Desert, which was an NIS 60 million job. The company also found over its head in debt and seeking the court's protection against creditors. In June, rival company Y.H. Dimri bought the controlling shares in Biri Barashi.