NGO Demands Probe of Alleged Misconduct at Maariv Under Nochi Dankner

A minority shareholder in the newspaper claims it was mismanaged in order to suit the needs of former owner Nochi Dankner and his associates.

A minority shareholder in Maariv has asked the Tel Aviv District Court to appoint a special investigator to probe his claims that the newspaper was mismanaged in order to suit the needs of former owner Nochi Dankner and his associates.

The shareholder, attorney Elad Mann, is head of Hatzlaha, a nongovernmental organization that seeks to promote good corporate governance.

In an 840-page statement submitted to the court on Monday, Mann alleges conflict of interest between court-appointed trustee Shlomo Ness and senior Maariv executives. He also claims conflict of interest in how the paper was managed under Dankner's IDB group, in part because members of the Maariv board were also board members in other IDB group companies and in Discount Investments, Maariv's former owners. In addition, Mann noted, a number of Maariv board members formerly worked for IDB, including former Maariv CEO Tal Raz and former editor Nir Hefetz.

Furthermore, Mann states, the fact that Dankner is currently under investigation for alleged financial misdeeds "increases concerns and the need for a thorough, organized clarification regarding his management" at Maariv.

In a response IDB rejected Mann's claims as "a collection of absurd claims and deceitful defamation."

Mann alleges that in the sale of the Maariv building to ILD Insurance in 2009 for NIS 32.5 million, the building's appraiser may have had ties to ILD. Mann claims another appraiser, Avi Mendelson, determined that the building could have fetched an additional NIS 8 million.

Mann also details management's alleged interference with the newspaper's editorial content.

"A long list of interests, evidence and incidents lead to the conclusion that for quite a while the paper was not working as a free press," he writes. "Instead, there were blatant, misleading and clear interventions for the sake of the controlling shareholders as well as associates of the shareholders, employees and Hefetz personally."

Citing various documents as well as statements made by senior figures at Maariv in legal depositions and in media interviews, Mann gives examples such as Hefetz's spiking of a political cartoon referring to the "Bibitours" affair as well as what was to have been a front-page interview with Second Authority for Television and Radio chairman Amir Gilat.

"The consistent slant in the paper's coverage indicates a disturbing systematicness regarding how it covered important economic issues, including competition within the mobile communications sector, the social protests and economic concentration. Maariv covered these matters in a way that was notably convenient for its owners," Mann writes in his statement.

The paper's business editor appointed under Dankner, Eitan Markovich, had no significant business-reporting experience or knowledge of the subject, Mann claims, adding that this, too, benefited Maariv's owners.

Mann also claims to have evidence proving that Yehuda Sharoni, who commented on economic affairs for the paper, spoke with IDB officials about how to cover the investigation into Nochi Dankner's cousin Danny Dankner. Mann also claims Maariv board member Haim Gavrieli would give the editor-in-chief directives regarding news coverage.

He also cites instances when the public company's resources were ostensibly used for the owner's private purposes. Maariv printed a special edition for Nochi Dankner's daughter's wedding in 2011, edited by Shai Golden, the paper's deputy editor, says Mann.

In November, Mann petitioned the Second Authority for Television and Radio, alleging that Channel 10 shelved an investigative report on businessman Shaul Elovitch while Elovitch was negotiating a joint Internet venture with the station.

Ofer Vaknin