The court overseeing the assets of indebted tycoon Eliezer Fishman has ordered his four adult children to do nothing to alter ownership rights of four Savyon villas they live in after a court-appointed receiver alleged the family was trying to keep the properties out of the hands of creditors.
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“There is a serious suspicions, to say the least, that family assets are being reorganized with the sole purpose of distancing the assets from the debtor himself [Eliezer Fishman] in an attempt to keep them from creditors and prevent them from being used to repay debt,” said attorney Joseph Benkel, who was named receiver for Fishman’s assets three weeks ago.
Judge Eitan Orenstein of the Tel Aviv District Court issued a temporary injunction on the properties pending another hearing on January 25.
The injunction is another and embarrassing setback for Fishman, who was once counted as one of Israel’s richest and most powerful tycoons. But his prize asset Jerusalem Economy Corporation fell victim to the collapse of its Russian real estate portfolio and Fishman himself faces debts of 4.5 billion shekels ($1.2 billion) run up by his privately controlled companies.
Fishman’s creditors had been patient, but in August the Israel Income Tax Authority set into motion bankruptcy proceedings after Fishman failed to pay a 196-million-shekel tax liability. Other creditors, including Israel’s biggest banks, followed suit.
The properties include four villas in the wealthy Tel Aviv suburb of Savyon, with which Benkel claimed the family has been playing “musical chairs” by transferring rights to them between family members without money changing hands.
The process began in 2002 and the last such transaction occurred December 6, less than a week before Benkel was appointed receiver. In the last transaction, Fishman’s daughter, Ronit Fishman-Ofir, transferred rights to a villa to her sister Anat Fishman-Menipaz, who in turn handed over half of the right to her husband Tal Menipaz. Two years before that Ronit had received another villa as a gift from her parents.
Another villa, purchased in 1993 in the name of Eliezer’s wife Tova Fishman, was given to Anat in 2002, who turned over half them the same day to her husband. A fourth property purchased in 1998 by Tova was given to her son Eyal Fishman in 2002 as a gift.
As Benkel’s request, Orenstein included a fifth home in his injunction registered in Tova Fishman’s name.
“The passing around of assets between family members raised more than a small suspicion that all these assets belong to the debtor himself [Eliezer Fishman] and in light of the financial problems he is facing he is trying to distance them from himself and, in doing so, distancing them from his creditors to ensure the welfare of his adult children,” Benkel said in his petition.
Benkel did not offer any valuations for the homes, but noted they each sat on five dunams (1.25 acres) of land in an expensive community. “The assets, remarkably, are free of any lien – meaning they can be in a conservative way valued in total in the many tens of millions of shekels or even more,” he said.