Mizrahi Board Meets to Select a New Chair

Shareholders at loggerheads over candidate

The board of directors of United Mizrahi Bank has scheduled a special session for today to choose a new chairman of the board. The meeting was requested by the Ofer Brothers group, despite the lack of consensus among the controlling shareholders regarding candidates for this position.

Ofer Brothers, which holds 26 percent of Mizrahi's share capital, plans to nominate attorney Zvi Efrat, one of the bank's current directors. The Wertheim-Feinberg group, which also owns a 26-percent stake in the bank, opposes Efrat's candidacy. According to an agreement the two groups signed when they acquired Mizrahi in 1995, the appointment of a board chairman must be agreed upon by both parties.

Avi Wertheim, the current chairman, has announced his resignation twice in recent months, but withdrew it in both instances after the bank's controlling partners failed to agree on a replacement. Among the candidates who have been supported by the Wertheim-Feinberg group are Joseph Ciechanover, Avraham Beiger and Liora Meridor. The group has opposed several other potential candidates, including Yair Rabinovich, Aryeh Zeif and Yaakov Ne'eman.

Last week, the group proposed a new candidate - managing director of the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange, Saul (Sam) Bronfeld. Ofer Brothers, however, opposes his candidacy.

Relations between the groups have soured due to the dispute over the appointment. In recent weeks, the disputing parties have exchanged legal correspondence drafted by their respective attorneys.

The ongoing dispute has also raised questions over whether the bank's CEO, Victor Medina, will continue his position. The Wertheim-Feinberg group has lost faith in Medina, regarding him as partial to the Ofer Brothers' camp.

Ofer Brothers is slated to submit Efrat's candidacy at today's board meeting, but may withdraw it at the last moment to avoid aggravating the dispute. The spokesman for the Ofer Brothers group only said that "Attorney Zvi Efrat is one of the candidates of the Ofer Brothers group for appointment as chairman of Bank Mizrahi."