Leumi Mulling Investment in Agassi's Electric Car Venture

Bank Leumi is considering investing in Better Place, the electric-car infrastructure company owned by Shai Agassi and Idan Ofer. Senior Leumi officials visited the firm a few weeks ago and the bank's investment arm, Leumi & Co., is reviewing the company's books. Leumi has already invested indirectly in Better Place via its investment in The Israel Corporation (about 20%).

A source at Better Place said the company is privately owned and does not discuss its business dealings, but a Leumi source said the investment was being considered.

Better Place was founded by Agassi in 2007 as an infrastructure company for charging the batteries of electric cars. The firm is negotiating contracts with various companies and municipalities in Israel and around the world for the construction of a network of recharging and battery replacement stations.

Agassi is CEO, while Ofer, the board chairman, is one of the main investors, both via The Israel Corp., of which he is a controlling shareholder, and a privately owned family company. In 2008, General Staff veteran Moshe Kaplinsky was appointed CEO of Better Place Israel, which will be in charge of the recharging and battery replacement stations in this country.

So far more than $300 million has been invested in Better Place in two rounds of financing. Participants in the first round, which raised $200 million, included The Israel Corp., Morgan Stanley, Vantage Point and private investors including Edgar Bronfman and James Wolfson. In January, Better Place raised another 100 million euros from a Danish investor, Dong Energy.

The Israel Corp. injected $23 million into the company after the first round of financing and pumped in another $20 million in January as part of a commitment to invest a total of about $100 million. The Israel Corp. has said this investment would be in exchange for 33% of the company's share capital. The Ofer family and its businesses are among Leumi's biggest clients.