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The police are investigating a series of threats and acts of sabotage against members of the Livnat family in Israel and abroad, who are senior executives of the family-owned Riwal crane company. The police has information connecting a series of break-ins at the company?s offices in Israel and Holland, incidents of stalking, threats and the sabotage of equipment estimated at millions of shekels, with rival crane operator Avi Cranes, which is suspected of using the services of a major crime family. The investigation is probing financial links between the crime family and Avi Cranes.

The heavy mobile crane sector in Israel is controlled by Avi Cranes, which has been in business since the 1970s and operates nearly 100 cranes. A small number of competitors have left the sector, which is worth tens of millions of dollars a year, because of the company?s monopoly. Most of the customers are large infrastructure companies, the military industries, the Israel Electric Corporation, the oil refineries and the defense establishment. Most of the mobile cranes which operate in Israel today are defined as strategic equipment because they operate in sensitive installations, and because they need to be readily available in an emergency.

In recent years, the Livnat family decided to enter the field and formed Riwal, which created stiff competition in the sector.

Suspicious fire

Three weeks ago, two caterpillar-track cranes belonging to the company, worth $5 million, were set on fire at Kibbutz Einat. The cranes were considered the most advanced in the country, and among the most modern in the world. A security guard at the kibbutz said that a group of masked men tied him and another guard up and set the cranes alight. However, police suspect that he may have cooperated with the arsonists.

Fire investigators who examined the cranes came to the conclusion that it was a professional arson intended to put the two cranes out of commission for a long time. The electronic control units of both cranes were targetted, which indicates to the investigators that the arson was carefully planned, and that the arsonists had received technical information.

According to a transcript of conversations on the security guard?s mobile phone, which included incoming calls from Arthur Pinhasov, an employee of Avi Cranes, the police suspect that he was the one to order the arson. The guard was arrested on Wednesday, and a day later so was Pinhasov and Avi Yochanan, the CEO and owner of Avi Cranes. The court ordered them to be held in custody until tomorrow, on the suspicion that they were behind the arson and the campaign of threats. At their custody hearing, the police representative said that the arson was intended to prevent Riwal from participating in huge tenders, which are currently taking place in Israel.

Doron and Adi Livnat are the sons of Yitzhak Livnat, who founded Taavura Holdings together with his brother Avraham in the 1950s. Taavura is considered today to be one of the largest corporations in Israel. The two were active from a young age in the running of the company, together with Avraham?s sons, Zvika and Shai.

Between 1980 and 1986, Doron Livnat was a manager in the Taavura Group, and in 1986 he founded Hovago, a Dutch firm which operates, rents and sells cranes, and which is considered to be among the 10 largest companies in the world in the field. In 1987 he founded a subsidiary called Riwal, which rents and sells platforms used for lifting people to great heights. Over the years, the company became one of the leaders in the field.

In 1997, Riwal Israel and Avi Cranes began to cooperate in the lifting platform field, in the construction of the Intel plant in Kiryat Gat. In 1999 the two companies formed a partnership, which was run by Avi Yochanan?s daughter, supervised by Adi Livnat.

Independent operations

A dispute developed between the two partners over the purchase of a heavy crane from the IEC, and revenue reports which the Livnat brothers say were not given to them. In 2003 the partnership broke up acrimoniously.

In 2003 Riwal Israel began to operate independently with lifting platforms, and set up a operation at Kibbutz Einat. At the same time, Avi Livnat?s office in Ramat Gan was broken into, and his computer, which contained business information, was stolen. No one was ever arrested for the theft.

Meanwhile, Riwal Israel was awarded a franchise to represent the world?s largest manufacturer of lifting platforms. The company imported more than 100 lifting platforms, and began to push Avi Cranes out of the market. A year later, Riwal began importing heavy cranes, creating a second front in the competition with its rival.

In November 2005, Adi Livnat?s office was once again broken into. Again, only his personal computer was stolen, and again no one was caught. Shortly afterwards, his brother Doron?s home in Holland was broken into twice in one month, in a manner termed by Dutch police as extraordinarily professional.

Two months ago, Riwal?s flagship crane, which can lift 500 tons, arrived in Israel at a cost of $3 million. It joined an older crane which could lift 300 tons. Until these cranes arrived, only Avi Cranes had equipment that could lift this kind of weight.

A few days later, the Riwal CEO?s wife received am anonymous telephone call at home, in which she was told that there was a ?contract out? on her husband, and that ?they know where their children are and that one day one of them will now come home.? The next day, a man was seen photographing Doron Livnat?s home in Holland, and his brother Adi noticed he was being followed in Israel. A few days later, another anonymous telephone call to the Riwal CEO?s mobile phone threatened that he would be hurt if he did not leave the company.

At that time, a huge tender was taking place for the supply of lifting platforms and cranes for the construction of a second Intel plant in Kiryat Gat. The construction work is estimated at $2 billion. The two main competitors in the tender were Riwal and Avi Cranes. According to sources close to the police investigation, Riwal?s two huge cranes endangered Avi Cranes? chances of winning the tender.

The arson of the two cranes set on fire at Kibbutz Einat took place the day before the deadline for presenting bids for the Intel tender. This made Avi Cranes the only contender.

The police investigation is now concentrating on information which connects the threats and the arson to a crime family, and Avi Cranes? connection the family.

The Livnat family claims it has no enemies who would want to cause it harm, and denies claims that that it refused to pay protection money to criminals. Some of the family members have been accompanied by armed guards in recent days.

Avi Cranes said in response that ?Avi Cranes is a veteran company that has been operating for more than 30 years. We believe in Avi?s innocence, welcome the police investigation and are sure that justice will be done. We cannot comment further so as not to harm the ongoing police investigation.?