I wonder if Shmuel Slavin's hands trembled when he signed on the sentence "the price at which Housing and Construction [the construction company Shikun u'Binui] was sold by the Histadrut in 1996 - NIS 300 million - was reasonable in the circumstances."
This was the sentence [from the Histadrut's investigative committee] that Histadrut chairman Amir Peretz was waiting for and he rushed to respond:"The results of the panel speak for themselves, that the sale of Housing and Construction was in order."
Chairman of the labor federation's professional unit Shlomo Shani joined in the celebrations, "I know Slavin, he is a professional and the report of the committee has my full trust."
Indeed Slavin has built himself a name over the years as a reliable man with a reputation of trust and honesty, and it is therefore all the more difficult to believe that he signed such a report. Was he really so much indebted to Peretz? Did he want us to forget that Peretz appointed him recently to head the Histadrut's asset management company and to be chairman of the Mivtahim fund? Would it not have been preferable for him to decline the offer of investigating the whole story?
The sale of Housing and Construction was cooked up by Haim Ramon and Haim Oron and completed in July 1996 by Peretz. It is amazing how people who call themselves socialists, sell a vast real estate company at a ridiculous price, thereby hitting their own worker-public. But what's new? It's "nobody's money" and who really cares about the Histadrut's financial situation?
The Housing and Construction company received three evaluations. Dan Levine valued it at NIS 300 million, Gad Somekh estimated the company at NIS 500-550 million, while Ya'akov Gadish and Shlomo Stenner priced it at NIS 750-800 million. For whatever reason, the Histadrut management adopted the lowest value, and there was no debate over the matter, not even a public bidding.
Had there been an auction, the Arison group would have upped the price, and who knows how many other contenders would have offered more. Two people put the pressure on to sell to Ted Arison at the knock-down bargain price and they quickly made a pretty profit on the deal as their options became worth millions - CEO Uzi Vardy-Zer and chairman of the board Prof. Efraim Sadka.
Peretz wants peace and quiet on the home front and so he brought in his friend Shmuel Avital to head the investigative committee. But Avital wasn't keen in drawing Peretz' chestnuts out the fire, and stopped the committee's work. Then Peretz replaced Avital with Slavin - and the rest is history.
But is that the end of the saga? Fortunately not. Because five Histadrut members (including Professor Shimon Sheetrit) have taken the labor federation to the courts claiming back NIS 500 million, a sum that would come in very handy for the Histadrut suffering enormous deficits. But what do Peretz and Avital care about a vast deficit and their inability to pay salaries on time? They only want peace and quiet, and not to argue between their members.
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