The Bottom Line / It Wasn't Me!

Moshe Mor definitely has a refined sense of humor. Otherwise, he wouldn't have written in his letter of resignation from the board of Industrial Development Bank that everybody is to blame - except for him.

Moshe Mor definitely has a refined sense of humor. Otherwise, he wouldn't have written in his letter of resignation from the board of Industrial Development Bank that everybody is to blame - except for him.

Mor blamed the bank's situation on the Bank of Israel and the Finance Ministry. He believes that they are to blame because they didn't rush to the bank's succor without checking things out, without guarantees and at a subsidized price. Differences of opinion between the various bodies involved went on for too long in Mor's opinion, and that's what got the bank into difficulties.

Ariella Zochovitzky, Pe'er Nadir and Yehoshua Neeman, directors who abandoned ship before Mor, all adopted the same tactic. They blamed the authorities.

The four, just like the other members of the board, don't entertain the thought that they are the leading actors in this tragedy. They are, after all, the representatives of the owners (the government and the commercial banks). They were the ones to authorize all the big loans extended by the bank, which is no longer certain that it will be able to collect its debts. They were the ones to set the bank's strategy - to extend loans to a few large institutions from the industry and communications sectors without creating enough diversification among other sectors of the economy, and to take deposits from a few private and institutional depositors, greatly raising the risk incured by the bank.

In other words, they were the ones who got the bank into a mess. Now, all of a sudden, they are laying the blame on the central bank and the treasury, which didn't rush to their aid and aren't giving them subsidized loans.

Some of the directors were appointed by the banks, while others were appointed by trade and industry ministers and prime ministers. Natan Sharansky appointed Shlomo Borochov, a man with no banking experience whatsoever, as chairman of the board. Not to be outdone, Dalia Itzik appointed Ra'anan Cohen, who is also devoid of any previous experience in the banking sector. But, what are friends for? After all, its only the state's money anyway and who cares if the tax payers money goes down the drain.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is also responsible for the bank, as his office is in charge of the Government Companies Authority, the role of which is to represent the state in shareholder meetings. But Sharon also sees the authority as just another endless source of political appointments. After all, Sharon also had a candidate for the post of chairman of the board, and the prime minister's candidate had no banking experience either.

Finance Minister Silvan Shalom says that he has no responsibility for the bank. However, that isn't quite true, as the State Assets Law (see the State Comptroller's Report) points out, and the treasury had its own representative on the board, Deputy Accountant General Yoel Ofir, who stepped down from his position at the bank only in April this year.

The directors of Industrial Development Bank are ired that the Bank of Israel is charging the bank interest of 12.1 percent on money it has borrowed from the central bank to finance withdrawals. They refuse to accept that 12.1 percent is in a fact a cheap and even subsidized rate - because in the bank's present state, no lender in the world would have agreed to lend it a cent, especially not at that price.

Ra'anan Cohen has a different view. He asked the government to force the central bank governor to charge only 9.3 percent, but David Klein made it clear to the prime minister that if he charged less, the other banks would ask to borrow the money from Industrial Development Bank. Klein did come toward the bank somewhat by agreeing to charge only 11.1 percent if the bank sells its credit portfolio by the end of the year, in accordance with the cabinet's decision on the matter. In other words, Klein seriously intends to put the bank out of business by the end of the year and Ra'anan Cohen will have rethink his restructuring program for the bank and start looking for another job.

The situation of the other directors on the board, including veteran bankers such as former Bank Hapoalim executives Richard Armon and Avi Olshinski, is much worse. They are exposed to large personal law suits. After all, someone really is to blame and these are the managers and directors.