Israeli Tycoon Leviev Asks Banks to Delay Repayment of Private Debt

Request from Africa Israel chief comes as Nochi Dankner signs accord on his 480 million shekels in private debt.

Michael Rochvarger
Michael Rochvarger
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Lev Leviev, controller of Africa Israel.
Lev Leviev, controller of Africa Israel.Credit: Ofer Vaknin
Michael Rochvarger
Michael Rochvarger

One Israeli tycoon asked on Tuesday to delay the first repayment on 1.1 billion shekels ($290 million) of private debt he owes banks, while one former tycoon reached an agreement on repaying 480 million shekels long overdue.

Lev Leviev, the controlling shareholder of Africa Israel Investments, asked his creditors’ bank to let him delay paying 180 million shekels due in November from his closely held investment vehicle Mamorand. The request comes less than three weeks after Africa Israel asked its bondholders to reschedule its debt.

Meanwhile, Nochi Dankner, who was once one of Israel’s most powerful businessmen and the controlling shareholder of the IDB group, reached an agreement with his creditors’ banks on paying off debt owed by two of his companies – Tomahawk and Ganden. Under the agreement, the banks are likely to write off 300 million of what Dankner owes.

Leviev’s and Dankner’s debt woes are shared by other current and former tycoons whose businesses were overwhelmed by debt following the world financial crisis in 2008. They include Eliezer Fishman, who lost control of his indebted Jerusalem Economy Corporation, and is carrying 2 billion shekels of private debt to banks. Another 1.4 billion shekels is owed by the fallen real estate magnate Moti Zisser.

Bank Hapoalim is carrying most of Leviev’s debt – about 700 million shekels of the total. Israel’s other four banks each hold another 90 million to 110 million each. As collateral they hold rights to a major building project Leviev is undertaking in Moscow, as well as his closely held chain of international jewelry stores.

They can also lay claim to Mamorand’s 47% stake in Africa Israel, but given the company’s own woes the shares are worth just 120 million shekels. Moreover, the debt-bailout talks Africa Israel is now having with its bondholders will probably end up with Leviev’s holding being diluted, making it worth even less.

In fact, the most important collateral Hapoalim and the other banks have are Leviev’s personal assets, namely luxury homes in London and the Tel Aviv suburb of Savyon. 

Under the terms of the 1.1 billion shekels in loans, Leviev was due to make repayments over five years starting in November.  In exchange for a grace period, Leviev will probably have to offer the banks more collateral, although it is not clear what else he has to offer. The fact that Leviev is asking to delay repayment suggests that the businesses are not doing as well as in the past.

Sources said that one reason Leviev is seeking relief from the banks is that he will likely inject more capital into Africa Israel as part of a bailout. Hit by the collapse of the Russian economy, where it invested heavily in real estate, Africa Israel has 3.2 billion shekels of debt.

The Danker debt accord comes after two years of negotiations and just before Dankner faces a verdict on charges he manipulated share prices while he controlled IDB.

The accord with the banks requires him to move out of his Herzilya Pituah villa, which is valued at 40 million shekels, and sell within the year to a buyer who is not a family member. He also has to repay 30 million in debt immediately, for a total of 180 million over the next five years.

Dankner is supposed to repay a further 30 million from income he earns in the future, but the banks aren’t counting on seeing that money.

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