Why a Prominent Israeli Businessman's Car Was Targeted With a Bomb

'Meir Shamir has a lot of skeletons in the closet. Apparently one of them came to life.'

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Police officers at the scene of a bombing targeting the car of businessman Meir Shamir, Tel Aviv, Israel, December 8, 2016.
Police officers at the scene of a bombing targeting the car of businessman Meir Shamir, Tel Aviv, Israel, December 8, 2016.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Last Thursday morning businessman Meir Shamir left his office at Mivtach Shamir Holdings on Habarzel Street in Tel Aviv and proceeded toward his BMW, which was in the building’s parking garage. The blast that followed could be heard in the entire Ramat Hahayal office park. Shamir wasn’t in his car at the time of the explosion, and the assessment of the police was that whoever planted the bomb was aiming primarily to warn him rather than do him physical harm.

So who is attempting to “warn” Shamir? Social and business acquaintances were having a hard time over the weekend answering that question, but one source in the capital market sector was a little more explicit: “Meir had a lot of skeletons in the closet,” he said. “The explosion looks like the work of the underworld. We shouldn’t get confused for a moment about this, but it’s not clear yet that it was directed at him.”

Shamir himself said he had no idea who would have planted the bomb and hoped that it was a case of mistaken identity.

“There’s no chance that someone would want to settle scores with him. It’s not in keeping with Meir. It can’t be,” said a friend of Shamir’s who worked with him for many years and is still in regular touch with him. “Shamir is in the highest league. I am familiar with how he does business. He’s an outstanding guy. He doesn’t frequent bad areas. I was surprised, just as everyone was.” But he added: “Maybe it’s connected to soccer.”

Shamir, a former combat navigator, was the owner and sponsor of the Hapoel Petah Tikva soccer team for a decade. Shamir’s reputation was put to the test in 2005, when he was summoned by the police for questioning over whether he had a connection with a criminal by the name of Yitzhak Kisos, who had been accused of conspiracy to murder organized crime figure Meir Abergil. Kisos, who was considered one of the central figures in Ze’ev Rosenstein’s crime organization, had been in conflict at the time with Abergil’s associates over control of Internet gambling.

Meir Shamir in 2009.Credit: Daniel Tchetchik

According to Haaretz and the Haifa weekly newspaper Kolbo at the time, Shamir was summoned to provide testimony and not as a criminal suspect himself. At the meeting with the police, they provided Shamir with evidence of communications between the two. Though Shamir insisted that he had no connection with Kisos, police said they had evidence of daily outgoing calls from Kisos to Shamir.

When Kisos was interrogated about his connection with Shamir, at first he denied that there was anything at all, but later said that he had called Shamir, as he allegedly put it, “to play him the sounds of animals in the jungle.”

After giving testimony to the police, Shamir insisted that he had no connection to Kikos, saying that he has never seen such a person and was unaware of his existence. Shamir said that a detective came to his office, where he asked Shamir questions about telephone calls placed to the cellphone in Shamir’s car, calls that he did not answer. Shamir insisted that he did not know the person who called his phone.

Ultimately Shamir was sent a letter by the police apologizing to him and explaining that sometimes police work involves harm to innocent citizens. On October 21, 2013, Kisos was killed in an ambush by unknown assailants in Or Yehuda, east of Tel Aviv.

Soccer business

Shamir bought the Hapoel Petah Tikva soccer club in 1996 and was associated with the team for three years as owner and seven as sponsor. In July 2011, in the face of massive debt, the club filed a court petition for liquidation. One of the team’s main assess was its stadium, which had been built in the 1960s with funding from fans, although ownership was later transferred to affiliates of the Histadrut labor federation.

Special court-appointed administrators appointed to manage the club in 2011 claimed that prior to that, Shamir had taken control of the team only to get its consent to have him obtain ownership of the stadium. That was purportedly so that he could use the land on which the stadium was situated for business purposes, to generate hundreds of millions of shekels.

Shamir claimed that his involvement with the club never involved real estate, adding that in any event, the soccer team had no ownership rights to the stadium. On the contrary, he said: Over the years he had invested tens of millions of shekels of his own money in the team.

A soccer source who knows Shamir found it hard to believe that the bomb in the parking garage had any connection to Hapoel Petah Tikva. “He left the world of soccer 10 years ago, and maybe longer. It’s hard for me to believe that a Hapoel Petah Tikva fan who comes along now It’s not reasonable. It’s not rational, particularly after 10 to 12 years. It could be that he has skeletons in his closet that came back to life now, but I don’t know.”

Police recommend indictment

At the same time that Shamir was involved in the soccer business in Petah Tikva, in 1999 he was questioned in connection with a case of alleged bribery that had resulted in the arrest of the former deputy director general of the Petah Tikva municipality, Avi Lavi. Police had suspected that while he was deputy director general, Lavi received large sums of money from developers and building contractors in the Petah Tikva area, east of Tel Aviv. Among the suspicions was that Shamir had transferred shares of the high-tech firm Yizocom to Lavi in exchange for assistance in the real estate-related business.

In 2000, the national police fraud squad recommended indicting Shamir, along with Amos Luzon, president of competitor team Maccabi Petah Tikva, on suspicion of bribing Lavi. Those involved denied the bribery allegations at the time. Shamir claimed that he had sold the shares in question to Lavi at Lavi’s initiative and that the sale, which also involved other investors, was totally in the open. No indictment was ever filed and the police file was closed.

But there were other controversies. Executives of the La Nacional insurance company were convicted of fraud, in a case that began in 1995, in connection with huge profits that the company made on insurance misrepresentations to members of kibbutzim. Shamir was CEO at the time of was one of the largest insurance agencies through which La Nacional sold insurance to the kibbutzim. He was arrested in 1996, but was never indicted. Later the Supreme Court was critical of the decision not to try Shamir.

Shamir was also friends with the former controlling shareholder of the IDB group, Nochi Dankner, who was recently sentenced to two years in prison for running up the price of shares of company stock. Shamir bought 2 million shekels ($524 million) worth of the shares at the time.

20.7 percent share of Tnuva

Shamir’s major business asset is his nearly 40 percent stake in publicly traded Mivtach Shamir Holdings, a stake worth about 310 million shekels. Last Thursday, after the explosion, however, the company’s share price dropped by 1.6 percent. In 2006, Shamir made his most important investment with Mivtach Shamir’s acquisition of 20.7 percent of Israeli food giant Tnuva, turning around in 2014 in selling it to Bright Food of China at a hefty valuation that propelled Shamir into the big leagues on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange. Now Mivtach Shamir is involved in high-tech and real estate investments, among others sectors.

Last month a long partnership between Mivtach Shamir and his good friend, Avraham Nussbaum, one of the owners of the construction and property firm the Ashtrom Group, was severed. Ashtrom sold its 8.9 percent stake in Mivtach Shamir for 77.7 million shekels. People in the capital markets were surprised, with one source calling it “strange.” “Nussbaum and Shamir were a close couple. They were together for at least 15 to 20 years, close friends doing business [together]. It would be interesting [to know] what led to the breakup,” he said.

Speaking to TheMarker over the weekend, Nussbaum said the so-called breakup was not a breakup at all. “Meir and I are still good friend. We sold our shares of Mivtach Shamir in a good and understanding atmosphere. We still have a lot of joint business operations [beyond Mivtach Shamir]. The decision to get out was strategic, enabling us to carry out joint business operations more easily,” he said.

“As a good friend of Shamir, I have no idea what the event [the explosion] is connected to. I’m happy that everything turned out all right and that nothing happened. I have no idea what’s behind it. I am sure it was a mistake,” Nussbaum said.

Shamir himself declined to provide a response.