After striking out in his attempts to acquire Africa Israel Investments and Bezeq, Naty Saidoff was finally on his way Wednesday to gaining control of a major Israeli company.
In an unexpected move, the Israeli-American real estate magnate reached an agreement with Shari Arison — the billionaire heiress whose flagship business is Bank Hapoalim — to buy her 47% stake in Housing & Construction Limited for 1.1 billion shekels ($310 million).
Even after Housing & Construction’s stock fell 14% this year, amid a probe into allegations of bribery to win contracts in Africa, Arison’s stake in the company is worth 1.28 billion shekels. The fact that she was prepared to sell at a discount is likely out of concern about the fallout from the probe against its African unit.
In addition, Arison faces a choice of divesting either Housing & Construction or Hapoalim under a deadline set by the Business Concentration Law. She has been trying to sell part of her Hapoalim holding but without success so far.
In all events, Arison Holdings, her investment vehicle, termed the sale part of its diversification strategy. “The decision to sell is in line with the group’s global operational strategy and aims to diversify its investments and have an impact on different fields around the sector,” it said in a statement.
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Arison Investments said it would contribute 25 million shekels of the amount it was getting to charitable activities.
“The buyer, for his part, his undertaken to continue Housing & Construction’s philanthropic activities and to direct of parts of profits to philanthropic purposes, too,” Arison Investments added.
Housing & Construction is in the midst of a difficult period. SBI, which does infrastructure development projects in Africa, accounted for a third of its cash flow. However, SBI and group of its current and former executives are the target of an international investigation into bribes paid to Kenyan officials to win contracts.
Housing & Construction said two weeks ago it was weighing selling the unit.
On Wednesday, Saidoff signaled that he would turn Housing & Construction’s attentions to the United States.
“The great experience I’ve accumulated over more than 40 years as head of my group in the United States, mainly in real estate, development and construction, will help Housing & Construction to expand operations in the American market,” Saidoff himself said.
Despite its troubles in Africa, Oz Levy, an analyst at Apex Capital, said in a report last week that Housing & Construction has enormous growth potential, mainly due to its operations in developing and operating renewable energy projects in Israel and overseas.
Age 63, Saidoff grew up on a kibbutz and left Israel to study economics at UCLA. He stayed and built a real estate empire under the name Capital Foresight Investment. Today he holds a portfolio of thousands of residential units in California, Colorado and Texas.
Saidoff emerged on the Israeli business scene suddenly in November 2016 as a possible buyer for Africa Israel, the property company long controlled by Lev Leviev. He returned last year to try to acquire Eurocom Communications, the holding company that controls Bezeq. Both times he failed.
Saidoff Group said Saidoff would be meeting shortly with Housing & Constructions top managers to develop a strategic plan for the company. Tamir Cohen, a business manager for the group, would “assume a significant role in forming the policies and operations” of Housing & Construction.