Arison Supports Arbitrator in Spat With Dankners

Sources close to the power struggle at Bank Hapoalim said yesterday that billionaire heiress Shari Arison tends to support appointing an arbitrator to resolve the conflict with her partners at the bank, the Dankner group. The sources claim the Arison group will only make a final decision after Sukkot, but the group believes an arbitrator would reach a conclusion that matches her position that the Dankner group has no right of first refusal regarding shares held by the bank's third partner, a consortium of Americans.

Arison signed a deal to buy the American group's 5.5 percent stake in the bank's controlling shares, which amount to 20 percent of all shares. Completing the deal would raise Arison's stake to 17 percent. The Dankners hold the remaining 3 percent through Salt Industries. With 85 percent of the controlling shares, Arison would gain full control of the bank.

The Dankner group claimed right of first refusal on the American-held shares. Arison replied that Salt Industries' right of refusal only pertains to part of these shares. The Americans support Arison's position. In response, Salt Industries announced it had turned to its partners, requesting that an arbitrator be appointed in the dispute.

Arison informed her partners two weeks ago that Shlomo Nehama would no longer represent her in discussions. Nehama was the Arison family representative while he served as CEO of the group and held shares in it. Nehama sold off his shares in Arison Investments for about $150 million seven months ago. Market sources noted that Arison does not intend to become active in Bank Hapoalim or to be appointed to the board. Rather, they say, she means to maintain Nehama as an active chair of the bank. An Arison group spokesperson refused to comment on the arbitration issue. The spokesperson called Arison's notice to her partners purely technical, which should have been carried out seven months ago.