Gunning for IDB

'Money for IDB Bid Not From Mafia, Gambling, or Prostitution,' Says Israeli Tycoon

Days before a court is expected to rule on the sale of IDB Holding, Moti Ben-Moshe responds to rumors and insinuations in an interview with TheMarker.

CHEMNITZ, Germany - Israeli businessman Nochi Dankner’s effort to maintain his control of IDB group have reached a crescendo in the past two days. His group of investors published a report that could undermine a competing group of investors vying for a stake in IDB. Dankner's report raises questions about where Moti Ben-Moshe, who has partnered with Argentinian Jewish businessman Eduardo Elsztain, made his fortune. IDB Holding Corporation's creditors have said they prefer the restructuring proposal presented by Ben-Moshe and Elsztain.

Ahead of the court hearing on Sunday that will determine whether the pair will be given control of the holding company, TheMarker interviewed Ben-Moshe, 38, about why he wants to buy IDB and about the creeping insinuations that he made his money illegally.

Ben-Moshe’s Xtra Holdings group in Germany has diverse business interests in telecommunications, from land line and mobile to home internet service. But the money put up for Ben-Moshe’s stake in the IDB deal apparently comes from Xtra’s energy interest. Xtra offers German businesses energy use packages based on power provided by suppliers it partners with and solar panel installations it directly owns. In every area, Xtra's operations succeed based on Ben-Moshe's ability to efficiently set pricing and manage fee collection.

Xtra has offices in Germany, England and even India. One office is located a three-hour drive south of Berlin in the city of Chemnitz. It takes up two floors and is perched above a hotel. The setting and the modest, even conservative decor are the exact opposite of IDB’s fancy offices in Tel Aviv’s Azrieli Center.

“I never imagined when I came forward to purchase IDB that they would try to connect me to the mafia or prostitution,” Ben-Moshe told TheMarker. “I knew they would want to know where I got the money to buy the corporation at my age, but the business war with Nochi Dankner over control of IDB has blown out of proportion. I have children I must protect from all the slander they are spreading about me. I don’t do business with the mafia or brothels and I didn’t make my money from gambling.”

You really never expected this? That sounds a bit naive coming from someone who is pursuing the largest corporation in the Israeli economy.

“I chose to live modestly. Money in my opinion does not need to be used in an aggressive or over-the-top manner. I don’t show-off to make others jealous. I don’t view IDB as a source of leverage to control, or influence politics in Israel....Competitiveness in Israel is low in every field, and in my opinion there is now an opportunity to make things more efficient. For me to make a business efficient doesn’t mean laying off workers, but knowing how to use them in a way that will yield the greatest profit to the business.”

Do you regret making an offer for IDB?

“No. The only thing that bothers me are the ramifications for my four children.”

How did the people close to you react when you told them you were about to acquire IDB?

“My wife didn’t want me to go through with the purchase and many people who know me were surprised I entered the ring because it came out of nowhere for them. As a family, we live modestly relative to the means at our disposal. Even this has a become a reason to come after me. They say there is no way someone this rich would live in Modi’in in a house worth $2 million and drive a Hyundai. To some people it sounds crazy that I live in such a modest manner when I am the owner of a business worth 1 billion euros.

Everyone is asking how a young guy of 38 made so much money. Why don’t you reveal the source of your money?

“I revealed them. I said very clearly that the money came from my company Xtra Energy and I submitted the proper documentation. The court appointed expert, Eyal Gabbai, and the observer Hagai Ullman, received verification that we have more than 700 million shekels of liquid funds in German banks that come from the current operations of Xtra Energy and with no associated debts. I must emphasize that these are liquid funds from Xtra Energy and not any of our other business activities. Israel has laws against money laundering. You can’t just transfer funds over."

Hagai Amit contributed to this article.

Enya Buchman
Ofer Vaknin