Institutionals Ordered to Intervene at Bezeq

Never before has a capital markets watchdog here made such a move. Yadin Antebi, the Finance Ministry's commissioner of capital markets, insurance and savings, has ordered Israel's institutional investors to wield their clout as major shareholders in Bezeq on behalf of their clients.

Antebi is ordering institutionals that own more than 0.3 percent of Bezeq's shares to report to him on their moves to protect the rights of their own investors.

He also asked that they establish whether Bezeq's board carried out its fiduciary duties toward the public investors.

"It is impossible for the institutional investors to remain unmoved by developments at Bezeq," he wrote in his circular. "They must use the tools at their disposal to protect the money of policy-holders and depositors, to whom they have a duty."

Antebi made his move in coordination with the Israel Securities Authority (ISA), which has been looking into accounting and stock option issues at the privatized national phone company.

The Finance Ministry commented that the Israel Securities Authority probe found serious irregularities at Bezeq regarding how decisions were made on executive remuneration and stock options for top officials. Also, problems were found in how insider transactions were carried out.

Taking a broader view, Antebi wants to increase the institutionals' involvement in supervising publicly traded companies in Israel, due to their duty to protect the interests of their investors.

Union representatives have also demanded that the names of all Bezeq workers who received benefits above and beyond those in the collective bargaining agreement be exposed. The union is disappointed that management will not reveal the names of the 40 executives who were slated to receive the benefits as part of the improperly approved options grants. The union did say that it welcomes the possible entry of Shlomo Nehama as an investor in the firm. The workers said that such a move by the outgoing chairman of Bank Hapoalim would help add stability to the phone company, and that the union would aid him in the dialogue over naming the next CEO in place of Gelbard.

The state is also requesting a shareholders assembly to discuss the ramifications of the external investigator's report on the scandals. The head of the Government Companies Authority (GCA), Eyal Gabbai, made the request in a letter to Bezeq's legal adviser yesterday, and TheMarker has obtained a copy of the letter.

Gabbai wrote in his letter that after the GCA finishes studying the report, it will be necessary to hold a general meeting of shareholders over the report's conclusions.