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Antitrust Commissioner Dror Strum responded angrily to Judge Varda Alshech's criticism of him during her hearing on Supersol's bid for Clubmarket yesterday morning.

"It's very popular to be concerned about competition until one has to pay a price for it," Strum told Haaretz.

Alshech, who approved Supersol's bid, lambasted Strum's objections to it, which are based on the fact that it will reduce competition. But Strum retorted that everyone was represented in Alshech's courtroom - the banks, the suppliers and Clubmarket's other creditors - aside from the customers. "It's the Antitrust Authority's job to be concerned about the customers, and that's what we'll do," he said. "With all due respect to the court, it is not its job to make decisions about mergers or about preserving competition."

Strum also denied Alshech's charge that he had negotiated with other bidders in an effort to persuade them to raise their offers and thereby foil Supersol's bid. "We didn't conduct negotiations with the bidders; we merely listened to their views on the fact that they were not given a proper opportunity to submit their bids," he said.

Strum was not the only one to feel the sharp edge of Alshech's tongue yesterday: She also lambasted Clubmarket's owners, the Borovich and Rosen families. "Despite the fact that they are, to a great extent, the ones who evidently brought the company to its current dismal state, they chose to sit on the side and refused to help finance the stay [of proceedings], as if they were no more than an uninvolved third party, despite being shareholders who have assets," she said.

Had the chain's collapse not caused so much damage to innocent parties, such as its suppliers and workers, this behavior on the part of the owners would probably have been enough to make her refuse to grant the stay, Alshech added.