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Antitrust Commissioner Dror Strum voiced his opposition yesterday to the proposed buyout of Burger King's Israeli branches by rival Burger Ranch. In a statement to Tel Aviv District Court, Strum said, "[Burger Ranch's] acquisition of Burger King is likely to adversely affect the competition and impact on the existing consumer choice, because there would then be only two players in the market," referring to Burger Ranch and McDonald's. In its NIS 30 million offer for the troubled rival chain, Burger Ranch had made clear that it was not interested in buying the Burger King brand, but only its branches.

The decision now rests with Judge Varda Alshech whether to permit the sale, or to prefer the sale of the assets of Burger King Israel's franchise-holder Rikmor to Orgad Holdings. Orgad had placed the second highest bid of NIS 20.5 million in cash (together with later royalties) for the fast food outlet. Orgad also announced late last month that it had reached a franchise agreement with Burger King International.

Burger Ranch announced yesterday that it would appeal Strum's decision.

Alshech will decide in September on the sale of Rikmor's assets and the state of the company's court protection from creditors. Burger King Israel was granted court protection in February and since then, the trustee running the company has closed four of the chain's 56 branches.