Leviev Refutes Rumor That He's Divesting Africa Israel Shares

Shares of Africa Israel have tumbled 6% since the market first heard last week that Lev Leviev, the dominant controlling shareholder of the sprawling real estate group, is leaving Israel for London.

Shares of Africa Israel have tumbled 6% since the market first heard last week that Lev Leviev, the dominant controlling shareholder of the sprawling real estate group, is leaving Israel for London.

Reasons for the slump include rumors that the real estate and diamond billionaire was or will be selling shares in the company. The whispers started amid the uncertainty surrounding the matter, though a close associate denies that Leviev is or will be selling. Leviev has not issued an explicit press release about a move to England; it was Channel 2 News that reported on this last week.

Reportedly one of the reasons behind a Leviev move would be to be closer to the London Stock Exchange, where one of his companies, AFI Development, is trading. AFI hit the market with a mighty splash in May 2006, only to lose a third of its value.

Here at home, Africa Israel shares sank 2.9% on Thursday and another 3% yesterday. Investors in Tel Aviv may be feeling that if he's moving to London to "be close" to one share, he's moving farther from another one.

Market sources say the real reason he might move to London has to do with tax. If he sells shares in Africa Israel, the tax he would pay there is lower than in Israel, surmise the sources. Some of yesterday's sellers were evidently people buying this theory, who preferred to exit the stock before he does. But Leviev isn't selling and doesn't mean to. A close associate says that in the last few days Leviev has been meeting with Israeli business leaders before making an official announcement on a move to London. His personal stake is 75% of the company's share capital, worth a neat NIS 13.5 billion. He told his fellow businessmen that divesting hadn't even occurred to him, and if anything, he means to continue developing and strengthening Africa Israel.

"Africa is part of my life and vision, and it's the most important thing to me after my family," Leviev told them. So is he moving or not? All he'll say is that Israel is his home and an important part of his life.