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The Russian-language television channel Israel Plus recorded losses of NIS 12.6 million in the third quarter of 2003, and has lost NIS 70.5 million since its establishment in November 2002.

The losses were revealed in the third quarter financial statements of Africa Israel, controlled by Lev Leviev, which owns an 84.25 percent interest in Vash Telecanal, the company that runs Israel Plus.

But despite the fierce competition over advertisers from other Russian channels originating from the ex-Soviet bloc, Israel Plus managed to increase its income from advertising during the quarter.

Last Friday, the Vash Telecanal board approved the sale of a 42 percent stake in the company to Lev Leviev for NIS 10.6 million. Under the sale, Leviev will also personally undertake half of Africa Israel's commitments to the station, through his privately held firm Memorand Management. The agreement remains contingent on the approval of the Council for Cable and Satellite Broadcasting and of creditor Bank Leumi.

Spurred by the intense competition over ads, 10 days ago Vash Telecanal sued the communications minister and Council for Cable and Satellite Broadcasting at the High Court of Justice. The station charged them with failing to enforce limitations on ads aired on RTV and ORT, broadcast from Russia, aimed at the Israeli Russian community - which today comprises some 20 percent of all Israelis. The council and ministry should be acting against Israeli advertisers who choose those channels, Vash Telecanal accused.

Vash's petition is actually a countersuit after RTV filed a petition with the court asking that all restrictions on ads by Israelis be abolished. Today, Israelis are responsible for 25 percent of its advertising income.