Shari Arison to sell controlling stake in Bank Hapoalim

Last month, Arison was questioned as a suspect in an investigation into alleged corruption.

A Bank Hapoalim branch in Tel Aviv (photo credit: REUTERS)
A Bank Hapoalim branch in Tel Aviv
(photo credit: REUTERS)
American-Israeli businesswoman Shari Arison, Israel’s wealthiest woman and holder of the controlling stake in Bank Hapoalim, is set to sell her interest in the bank after receiving a green light from the Bank of Israel on Tuesday to offer her shares to the public.
Arison said she had failed in recent years to find a strategic partner in order to reduce her 20% stake in Israel’s largest bank held by her company Arison Holdings Ltd., but would now end 21 years of investment after receiving permission to sell her shares at the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange.
The Bank of Israel stated that multi-billionaire Arison will sell her shares until she reaches a holding not exceeding 5% of the bank's equity within the next five years, with a possible two-year extension.
With the sale of Arison’s stake, Hapoalim will no longer have a controlling stakeholder but rather its shares will be held entirely by the public directly or through institutional investors, similar to other major Israeli banks, including Bank Leumi, Israel Discount Bank and Dexia Israel Bank.
“In recent years I worked to integrate a strategic partner and reduce my holding in Bank Hapoalim,” Arison said in a statement.
“Having not found a strategic partner to invest on such a scale, and after ending negotiations with North American investors, I approached the Bank of Israel a few months ago in a request to evaluate the possibility of receiving permission to decentralize control.
“It was an honor for me to possess control of the bank for the last 21 years. I believe in Bank Hapoalim, and I want to thank the members of the directorate, management, generations of employees and the faithful customers of the public,” she added.
“I am certain that Bank Hapoalim, one of the supporting pillars of the Israeli market, will continue to act according to the vision of financial freedom, to grow and to faithfully serve all its customers.”
Arison’s control permit will come to an end, the Bank of Israel said, when her holding is either reduced to less than 20% or by the end of 2018, whichever occurs first.
Arison Investment’s CEO Efrat Peled, vice-president and general counsel Ido Stern, and chief global strategy officer Meir Weitchner will all step down from their positions immediately.
Bank Hapoalim’s shares lost 3% of their value as trading started on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange floor following the announcement.
Arison, who inherited her wealth from her father Ted, founder of Carnival Cruise Lines and one of the pioneers of the modern cruise ship industry, is today estimated to be worth $5.4 billion by Forbes.
Last month, Arison and Peled were questioned under caution in a police investigation into alleged corruption in the Housing and Construction (Shikun and Binui) holding company, Israel’s largest infrastructure and real estate group.
Police and the Israel Securities Authority said that company officials were suspected of bribing foreign government officials, among other offenses, in order to advance lucrative construction projects in Africa.
“The Arison Group has zero tolerance for any inappropriate conduct,” said the investment company in a statement after Arison and Peled were summoned for questioning by the Israel Police’s Lahav 433 anti-corruption unit.
“The group worked, works and will work to set high ethical standards in all its activities and fields of investment in Israel and around the world – and will continue to do business with added value for the benefit of the economy, society and the environment.”