Nochi Dankner in court 370.
(photo credit: Tal Shahar/Yediot/poll)
The Tel Aviv District Court on Sunday rejected a petition by IDB bondholders that would wrest control of the company away from Nochi Dankner, and instead gave the tycoon an August 22 deadline to scrounge up and pay NIS 800 million of its debt instead.
Judge Eitan Orenstein, who oversaw the hearing, also ruled that in order to strengthen its financial position, IDB should sell Clal Finance and Insurance, one of its many subsidiaries.
“If within a few months, IDB Development is unable to sell its holdings in Clal Insurance, this will be grounds for insolvency,” he said.
Speaking after the hearing, Dankner said the two-month time frame would be difficult, but that the company would find a way to make it happen.
Meretz chairwoman Zehava Gal-On expressed anger at the court’s ruling, saying it had missed a “historic opportunity to send a message to tycoons that have become accustomed to partying with the public’s money and losing it without paying a price.”
Controlling shareholders who do not pay their debts, she said, should transfer control to their creditors.
Orenstein, as well, scolded the parties involved for failing to reach their own agreement, given that so much of the public’s money is at stake.
Many Israeli pension funds are invested in IDB or the major companies it controls, such as Cellcom and Shufersal.
“Instead of conducting negotiations, you sit in towers in Azrieli and serve petitions on Saturday night,” Orenstein said. “I expected dialogue. I understand that you are scared to talk to each other, and this is unacceptable.”
On Saturday night, IDB filed a petition stating that Argentine billionaire Eduardo Elsztain had taken steps on Friday to transfer money earmarked for investment in IDB Holding to a trustee account. On Thursday, IDB asked the court for a further extension in order to present the new arrangement to it and to call a meeting with bondholders on the matter.
“I reiterate that the parties should reach a broad agreement, show maturity and responsibility about the fate of the public’s money, and ignore past investors,” Orenstein said. “An agreement filed with the court is better than a legal ruling.”
The judge also postponed the company’s next bond payment until June 23.
On Tuesday, Elsztain came to Israel to support Dankner, saying that he was prepared to invest in the beleaguered company. As the only arrangement on offer that would inject new funds, he said, Dankner’s offer had the best shot of turning around the company, which is struggling to meet its roughly NIS 2b. in debt obligations.
According to IDB, Elsztain signed an undertaking to the company committing himself to making his investment in which he owns, into a designated trustee account for the bondholders.
The Argentine undertook to deposit $25m. into the account within 14 days of reaching a detailed agreement, and the remaining $50m. within 60 days of the agreement being approved by the court.
The company says that the undertaking solves the two main problems in the negotiations between it and the bondholders: the uncertainty over Elsztain’s investment and the lack of any reference to an injection of cash into IDB Holding subsidiary IDB Development.
A second undertaking signed by Elsztain, relating to IDB Development, speaks of “a set period of quiet lasting a few months during which the company will set out to raise capital and will sell part of its stake in Clal Insurance.”
IDB Development’s financial statements have carried a going concern warning since the second quarter.
Under this second undertaking, Dankner and Elsztain commit to “significant strengthening of IDB Development’s capital structure” through capital raised from them, or from third parties amounting to NIS 800m.
The representative of the IDB Development bondholders, who seek to take over the company, dismissed the undertakings as “the daily spin” and as “written on ice and dependent on countless conditions,” and as designed only to gain time, and said they amounted to acknowledgment that the company was insolvent.Globes and Bloomberg contributed to this report.