Arnon Mozes, the publisher of Yedioth Ahronoth and a suspect in one of the corruption affairs involving Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is securing his hold over Israel’s largest newspaper.
Mozes will be paying Bank Hapoalim some 300 million shekels ($80.274 million) for its 34% holding in Yedioth Ahronoth group, thus more than doubling his stake.
The bank is not loaning him money to cover the deal. The source of his funding is unknown.
The deal still needs court approval.
Mozes currently holds only 24% of the newspaper’s shares, but has 60% of the voting rights on the newspaper’s board of directors. He is also the newspaper’s publisher, and has managed the newspaper’s operations for the past three decades.
Mozes is apparently strengthening his hold over the paper in anticipation of an indictment in Case 2000. In that affair, Netanyahu allegedly offered to weaken the free daily newspaper Israel Hayom in exchange for more favorable coverage in Yedioth Ahronoth, and Mozes allegedly agreed to make such a commitment. Israel Hayom, owned by U.S. casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, was considered a Netanyahu mouthpiece. Its launch shook up Israel’s newspaper market, eating into circulation and shrinking advertising budgets.
The police have recommended charging Mozes with the attempted bribery of Netanyahu. Mozes is now waiting for the attorney general to decide whether to indict him.
Hapoalim put a lien on 34% of the newspaper’s shares in 2017, over a 1.1 billion shekel loan owed by businessman Eliezer Fishman.
Fishman was declared bankrupt half a year ago with 4 billion shekels in debt. The bank granted the loan in the 1990s in order to enable Fishman and his business partners to buy into the newspaper.
The bank is thought to value the Yedioth group at 1 billion shekels, which would make the shares worth about 340 million shekels.
Mozes sold off some of his other assets over the past few years, including shares and options in multi-channel television company HOT and the Yedioth building in Tel Aviv.
This would be one of the largest transactions in Israel’s media industry in years.
Mozes is also expected to come to an agreement with Israel Discount Bank, which had a lien on 8% of the Yedioth group’s shares. Those shares had been held by the Yudkovsky family, which owed Discount several tens of millions of shekels after borrowing money to buy the shares.
Mozes had come into conflict with the Yudkovsky family, which had argued that it was illegitimate for Mozes to continue filling a senior role at the paper while under investigation in Case 2000.
To date, Bank Hapoalim has supported Mozes and his role at the paper, arguing against ousting him so long as he hasn’t been indicted.
If Mozes buys out Discount as well as Hapoalim, he will then hold 66% of the Yedioth group.
Bank Discount declined to respond.
Bank Hapoalim stated in response that its receivers operate independently, with the goal of maximizing revenues from assets.
Yedioth Ahronoth did not respond by press time.
The Yedioth group has lost money over the past few years, mainly due to the tough market for print journalism. The market has faced tough competition from Israel Hayom, reduced advertising revenue and minimal income from online operations. The newspaper is planning cutbacks.
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