Bottom Shekel / Meir Shamir's Hats

"I'm not the controlling shareholder at Digal," businessman Meir Shamir told me several months ago, following an article regarding the going concern warning attached to the financial reports of Digal Investments and Holdings, which Shamir controls jointly with Yehuda Levy. "But you own 34.6% of the company, which makes you the second largest shareholder," I said. "You were on the board of directors and according to the bourse you have a joint voting agreement with Levy." "Go speak to Levy," Shamir said angrily, "He manages everything over there."

The months passed and the company and its bondholders recently reached an arrangement that is now awaiting court approval. Still, Shamir and Levy have not put even one shekel into the company, even as part of the debt arrangement.

Now Shamir, who manages his business affairs through his company Mivtach Shamir Holdings, is trying to promote the flotation of Jarvinia, an Indian real estate development company controlled by Mivtach Shamir, on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange.

The market value of the initial public offering will be $100-$200 million. Before institutional investors make a beeline for the IPO, however, they might do well to notice the similarity between the size of Mivtach Shamir's holdings in Digal and Jarvinia.

Mivtach Shamir owns 34.6% of Digal and 35% of Jarvinia, which is owned jointly with other private investors including Yuval Cohen and Ofer Shani. The Registrar of Companies lists these two men as the owners of Fringe Advertising and Investment, and each of them owns 17.5% of Jarvinia. The other 30% is owned by a foreign company.

Even though Mivtach Shamir has a few partners in Jarvinia, Meir Shamir and his holding company have received considerable newspaper coverage of the planned IPO. Shamir is not complaining. Why should he? Mivtach Shamir can expect its value to rise following the flotation of its Indian operations. Still, the question remains; what will happen in a few years if Jarvinia runs aground financially. Will Shamir again refuse to inject the company with some cash, while sending worried bondholders to his partners?

Shamir is not the only variable in this equation. Jarvinia is involved in real estate, hotels and communications in India, and Shamir's partner in the hotel operations is Rafael Berber's RP Capital. This the same investor who joined up with Poalim IBI a few years ago and issued bonds on the Tel Aviv bourse, in GMF Investments, but was unable to meet the bond repayments and had to reach an arrangement with bondholders.