HOTEL OCCUPANCY soared during the Pessah holiday period. The Dan chain alone catered to in excess of 10,000 guests on Seder night. Overall Pessah room night occupancies in the chain according to Rafi Be'eri, the chain's vice president marketing, represent a 15 percent increase compared to the same period in 2005. Moreover, 70% of Dan Hotels' guests this Pessah are tourists from abroad, more than half of them returning guests. In addition to the public seders in the chain's 12 hotels, there were some 50 private seders in which families hired dining rooms and convention halls within the hotels for their own Pessah celebrations. Even without the revenue from guest rooms, the chain raked in a fortune on Seder night, charging NIS 1,084 for adults and NIS 760 for children at its flagship King David Hotel in Jerusalem, to NIS 300 for adults and NIS 200 for children at the Dan Gardens in Ashkelon. In Eilat, guests could pay even less at a food fair buffet outside the Dan Eilat banquet hall. Food fair prices were NIS 250 for adults and NIS 125 for children, whereas inside the banquet hall, the prices were NIS 750 for adults and NIS 565 for children. The most expensive seder after that of the King David was in the Dan Accadia where the price was NIS 910 for adults and NIS 790 for children. Even though only 30% of the guests were Israelis, their ability to afford to pay such inflated prices was in sharp contrast with the appeals by non-profit organizations for provisions for the nation's poor. The non-profits complained on the eve of Pessah that they had not received sufficient donations in either cash or food products to meet all their needs. CONTROVERSIAL BILLIONAIRE Arkadi Gaydamak continues to attract media attention - and not only because of his ownership of the Betar Jerusalem soccer team or the claim by the Serious and International Crimes Unit of the Israel Police that sufficient evidence has been amassed against Gaydamak to charge him with money laundering of $52 million via an account in the Hayarkon branch of Bank Hapoalim. Gaydamak, who owns the Moscow News, attempted to come to the rescue of the prestigious but financially ailing Paris Soir, but because he is wanted in France for allegedly smuggling arms to Angola, he was blacklisted by the legal authorities, despite his pledge that none of the publication's workers would be fired if he became the new proprietor. The French courts remained adamant, however, and the bankrupt publication was taken over by real estate developer Jean-Pierre Brunois and sports journalist Olivier Rey, who intend to make drastic staff cuts and to reduce the payroll from 112 to 56 employees. They also intend to change the character of the paper, which was founded as a resistance publication in 1944 and, in its heyday in the 1960s, had a circulation in excess of one million copies. Circulation dwindled over the years to something slightly in excess of 50,000. The new owners believe they can appeal to more readers if they, more or less, eliminate politics and culture and focus on entertainment industry gossip, horseracing and popular sports. The paper's employees, as well as the relevant trade unions, publicly announced that they would have preferred Gaydamak. Meanwhile, on the home front, Gaydamak is reportedly negotiating for the purchase of a $2.5 million penthouse in David's Village overlooking the walls of the old city of Jerusalem. Gaydamak resides in a multi-million dollar villa in Caesarea. ONE OF the things for which the French are renowned is cuisine, so it comes as no surprise that the initial investment in Israel by French businessman Pierre Besnainou, who is president of the European Jewish Congress, was in the food industry. Besnainou has bought into Chefa Meals & Service Ltd, one of Israel's major catering concerns. His 30% share cost him NIS 25.5 million. Catering which was always a profitable enterprise in Israel, is becoming even more so as companies, institutions and organizations increasingly look to external sources to provide their meal requirements. Chefa was previously owned by two partners: B. Waizer Investment and Management Ltd which had a 60% stake and Sodexho Alliance SA which held 40% of the stock. Waizer's share has now been reduced to 36.7% and that of Sodexho to 33.3%. BRITISH PROPERTY tycoon Leo Noe, 52, whose Reit Israel Fund, two years ago, completed the purchase of Azorim Properties, appears set to become the shopping mall king of Israel - an unofficial title held, until now, by Canadian-based architect, builder and shopping mall developer David Azrieli, who several years ago launched Israel's first shopping mall and has since built several others. Noe, who is relatively high on The Sunday Times Rich List of the 1,000 wealthiest people in the UK, has been buying up malls all over Israel. THE BOARD of Directors of Israel Aircraft Industries has approved a series of new appointments that were recommended by President and CEO Itzhak Nissan. The appointees include Yair Ramati, currently general manager of MLM Division in IAI's Systems Missiles & Space Group, who has been appointed IAI's corporate vice president for marketing; Joseph Weiss, currently general manager MBT Space Division within IAI's SMS Group, who has been promoted to SMS general manager; Yehoshua Eldar, currently director of finance at IAI's SMS Group who has been appointed corporate vice president for business development & subsidiaries; and Danny Kleiman, currently general manager of the production division within IAI's Commercial Aircraft Group, who has been appointed IAI's corporate vice president for operations. Ramati, born in 1955, joined IAI in 1981 and has held various technological and managerial positions. Between 1992 and 1998 he served as head of the Arrow Anti-Tactical Ballistic Missile Directorate. A Technion alumnus with an M.Sc. in aeronautical engineering, Ramati was the recipient of the Israel Defense Prize in 2003 and the US Missile Defense Agency's David Israel Award, also in 2003, for his activities in the field of surface-to-surface missiles protection. Weiss, born in 1951, served for 27 years in the Israel Navy before joining IAI in 1988. During his naval service, Weiss served as a project officer in the US, and was engaged in the absorption of an advanced weapon system for the Israel Navy. In his final assignment for the Navy, Weiss was responsible for the $1 billion program for the development and manufacture of three Dolphin submarines. He holds a B.Sc. in mechanical engineering from the Technion and an MBA from Tel Aviv University. Eldar, born in 1953, joined IAI in 1978. He has a BA in economics from Tel Aviv University and an MSM degree from the joint program of Ben Gurion University of the Negev and Boston University in the US. Kleiman, born in 1960 joined IAI's Bedek Aviation Group in 1991 as manager of the Barak engine project, after having served well over a decade in the Israel Air Force. Between 1993 and 1997 he worked at the Isravision Company as vice president operations and chief engineer for the production of business aircraft. He returned to IAI in 1998, and the following year established and managed the Business Jet Program Division. He is a Technion graduate with a B.Sc in aeronautical engineering. All three Technion alumni graduated with honors. In another IAI development, Uzi Rosen, vice president strategic planning has given notice of his intention to resign. Rosen joined IAI in September 2001 after having served as a special aide to four successive ministers of defense. He was previously a combat pilot and a commanding officer. IAI chairman Yair Shamir expressed regret that Rosen had decided to leave the company. ALSO RESIGNING, not from IAI, but from El Al is Yoav Levy, vice president for commerce and aviation relations. Levy told El Al CEO Haim Romano that his period with the company had been one of the best in his life, but he felt that the time had come to seek new horizons. He was grateful he said, for the opportunities that El Al had given him to develop his potential. Romano noted that many of El Al's achievements, especially during 2005, could be attributed to Levy. THE FINANCE Ministry has announced the resignation of Gilad Riklin, head of the macro economics department in the Treasury's Budgets division. Riklin, 36, who has been with the Finance Ministry for seven years in a broad variety of positions, is a Hebrew University alumnus with degrees in economics, law and business administration. During his employment at the Finance Ministry, he also served as a member of the board of the board of directors and on the finance committees of Oil Refineries Ltd. (Bazan), Magen David Adom, the Public Water and Sewerage Services and the Water Council. Riklin has taken up a position with Mekorot the national water carrier, where he will serve as head of the economics division. IN OTHER news about Finance Ministry personnel, 33, has been named acting deputy head of budgets for industry and trade, tourism, agriculture, water and communications. A Hebrew University alumnus with a BA in economics and communications and an MBA, Fernandez joined the Budgets division in 2000 and gained experience in a variety of budgetary fields. He replaces Amir Levy, who has resigned after four years in the position and is moving into the private sector.