The World's Elite Turn to This Israeli Firm When Trouble Hits

Haifa-based Sabra Intelligence Solutions uses the talents of ex-spies to extricate them

Maayan Bachar in the Sabra offices, Haifa, May 20, 2019.
rami shllush

A small office in an old building in Haifa’s lower city is the headquarters of a tiny company on whom many of the world’s oligarchs, politicians and celebrities rely when they run into trouble.

They retain Sabra Intelligence Solutions to help them with problems in their business and private lives, figure out who’s threatening or blackmailing them and, perhaps most important, help them avoid costly and time-consuming legal entanglements.

Formed in 2017, Sabra is new to the field. But its founder, Eran Bachar, had a long career in the Shin Bet security service, the police and the army. CEO Shay Chervinsky brings the company skills from more than 20 years in high-tech.

“We resolve disputes between the very rich and large companies involving huge amounts, in the hundreds of millions or billions of dollars,” Maayan Bachar, the company’s legal adviser, said in an interview with TheMarker. She and Eran Bachar are married.

“When the world’s rich and big corporations get into disputes, there’s a lot of dirt. we’re talking about cyberattacks, legal and illegal surveillance, so they want to retain a firm that acts like a comprehensive intelligence organization,” she said.

Sabra’s 22 employees includes field agents and intelligence analysts as well as in the fields as well as experts in law, psychology and capital markets. A team of negotiators works to resolve disputes before they get to court, said Maayan Bachar.

In one case, the firm was hired to help a publicly traded retail company that found itself the target of media attacks whose origins it couldn’t identify. Some of the reports were at least partially factual, while others were entirely fake.

Many equity analysts took the reports seriously and began issuing bearish forecasts for the company. Its share price fell as much as 7%.

“We identified two company employees who acted as ‘Trojan horses,’” recalled Bachar. “We also found that the CEO and other executives were being surveilled and that spyware had been installed on their phones.”

Sabra provided the client with anti-surveillance technology and eventually discovered that behind the entire operation was a competitor that hoped to buy control of the company. Bachar said the competitor hoped to engineer a drop in the share price to lower the cost of a takeover.

“The level of sophistication was high. To identify the attacker, we hired experts in the capital markets, who teamed up with the company’s staff,” she said.

What did you do after identifying who was behind the attacks?

“We decided to first collect a lot of information: what motivated the attacking company, what were its weaknesses and what does it want. At a certain point, the other side began undertaking clearly criminal acts and the minute they were exposed, there wasn’t much they could do. That’s how we entered into negotiations and from there it was wound up quickly.

“If the client had not hired us, within a few months he would have found himself out of the game.”

In another case, Sabra was hired by a high-tech entrepreneur from Beverly Hills.”He felt there was someone following him and didn’t know why,” said Bachar.

“Our teams began working on the case, gave information to analysts to study and we quickly realized that our client was the target of a very sophisticated sting operation by his wife that has begun six months earlier,” Bachar recounted. “We collected strong evidence and provided it to him.”

In another case the spouse involved was a collaborator. Two oligarchs ended a partnership acrimoniously after one accused the other of illicitly transferring assets out of the partnership through a divorce.

“Our lawyer played a critical role by identifying how he was moving the assets. We discovered that the divorce was fictitious, that the couple lived and spent time together. The divorce was a way to transfer assets. On this basis, we could start negotiations over compensation [for Sabra’s client] and close the case quickly.”

It doesn’t bother you to take on cases with ethical questions and the possibility that people will be hurt?

“Most of our clients are normative people, business people who have encountered a problematic situation. We don’t decide which side is good and which side needs to be defended — we’re not a court. But when we smell something bad we stop providing services.”

What happens when you have doubts about a potential client?

“We’ve had instances where criminal elements have approached us. We knew in advance who they were and turned them down politely. We won’t provide services to an organization whose activities could put us at risk.”

Bachar stresses that everything Sabra does is legal. “We don’t use spyware or surveillance equipment. We have very well-trained teams, all of them from operation units in the Shin Bet, Mossad, Sayeret Matkal and the like who can get the needed results without breaking the law.”

The firm typically handles five or six cases at any one time. Bachar says currently it has one large one, involving hundreds of millions of dollars, and four in the tens of millions of dollars range.

Sabra’s fees range from tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars, depending on how complicated the case is and, in the case of corporate clients, the size of the company. Before setting a fee, Sabra sits with a potential client to assess the size and sophistication of the work required.

Often fees are charged in stages, which can work in the client’s favor if a case is closed more quickly than expected.

What is the hardest part of Sabra’s work?

“Collecting information is one thing, but the ability to take all the pieces of information and connect them to see the whole picture is the real challenge of the job, both in terms of protecting the client and in understanding the other side — what motivates him and what will cause him to stop, what his motivations and weaknesses are. The motives are usually financial.”

Bachar said the firm hasn’t any complete failures, although she pointed to one case where the client suspected his employees were engaged in self-dealing. Sabra found no evidence of any wrongdoing and concluded it was then entry of a new player into the industry that was responsible for the company’s declining sales.

“There may have been cases we ended before we reached the goal … and sometimes the clients themselves hurt the case — deciding to start negotiations unilaterally, talking with the other party without informing us and disrupting our work.

“Powerful business people can be undisciplined and think they know how to manage alone, that they’re smarter than anyone else. Here they can cause damage, and that happens a lot. People just can’t control themselves.”