First International Bank chair Shlomo Piotrkowsky once summed up his business philosophy in the following sentence: "When you grant credit, first know the man, then know the business, and finally know the deal."
Piotrkowsky's friendly relationship with Gad Zeevi has been covered more than once in the press, and should have served the first rule of the philosophy. But his many hours of horseback riding with Zeevi and their family outings didn't serve Piotrkowsky when it became evident that Michael Chernoy was backing Zeevi's acquisition of 20 percent of the state-run phone company Bezeq.
Ha'aretz's revelation of Piotrkowsky's testimony to the police in the matter offers a rare opportunity to look behind the scenes at the deal. Piotrkowsky was interrogated four times during the probe against Zeevi and Chernoy that eventually led to indictments against them for money laundering.
Piotrkowsky's testimony indicates that the CEO of subsidiary FIBI Switzerland, David Nahimovsky, reported to him that Chernoy and Zeev Rom tried to convince him to open accounts for them at the Swiss unit.
Nahimovsky tried to reject their requests, but at some stage they told him that Zeevi's money in his bank essentially belonged to them. At that time, Zeevi had about $150 million in the Swiss bank - the shareholders' equity for the Bezeq deal.
Piotrkowsky said that after learning of the meeting in Switzerland with Chernoy and Rom, he turned to bank chairman Yigal Arnon, at the time also Zeevi's legal representative, and Zeevi himself, to refute the information.
According to Piotrkowsky's testimony, Arnon was surprised by the matter and knew nothing of it, while Zeevi "categorically denied the stories, and reiterated that the money was his, and there was nothing behind the story."
One key focus of the police investigation was Arnon's dual role and the conflict of interest between being bank chairman and chair of its directors' credit committee and Zeevi being among his legal clients.
Piotrkowsky said during the interrogation that "Adv. Arnon's professional credibility and dedication are such that, and I speak from 11 years of experience with him, the question of conflict of interest of this sort wouldn't impact his considerations as chair of the First International board of directors and as the Safra family's representative in Israel."
We can assume that if Piotrkowsky and Arnon had known clearly that Chernoy was backing Zeevi, they wouldn't have financed the deal. But did they do everything to find that out?
Piotrkowsky said that he made do with investigating the suspicions with Arnon and Zeevi, and did not act through any other channels.
No small number of bankers think Arnon's dual role in the affair led to some blurring of the decision-making process at First International.
When Piotrkowsky asked Arnon regarding suspicions about Zeevi, he essentially got two answers from one person: First, Advocate Arnon: It's Zeevi's money. Second, from bank chair Arnon: We can finance the deal.
The question of what the bank chair would have said if he weren't the same person remains unanswered.
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