US firm Searchlight threatens to pull out of deal for control of Bezeq

US firm Searchlight threatens to pull out of deal for control of Bezeq

Communications minister reportedly reluctant to sign control permit over fears attorney general could open investigation against him, as he did with Netanyahu

General view of the Bezeq Satellite Station in the Haella Valley, February 23, 2008. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)
General view of the Bezeq Satellite Station in the Haella Valley, February 23, 2008. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

US private investment firm Searchlight Capital is threatening to terminate its agreement to acquire the controlling shareholder of Israel’s largest telecom conglomerate, Bezeq, if the deal’s closing does not occur by November 24, amid reported stalling by the communications minister.

In a filing to the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange, Searchlight said that if the closing has not occurred by that date, then “either party has the right to deliver a notice to the other parties terminating” the share purchase agreement.

The investment firm in June agreed to acquire B Communications (BCom), whose single asset is a 26.34 percent controlling stake in Bezeq. The BCom board has approved the deal.

Internet Gold – Golden Lines Ltd, BCom’s parent company, has been searching for a buyer for its stake in B Communications after being under pressure from bondholders. The deal would allow BCom to repay debt.

Internet Gold is owned by holding firm Eurocom, which was put into receivership last year after its owner Shaul Elovitch was embroiled in investigations regarding his dealings with Communications Ministry and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in what came to be called Case 4000. Elovitch claims he is innocent.

Searchlight’s statement follows a report in the Calcalist website that Communications Minister David Amsalem was refusing to approve the transfer of a control permit to Searchlight, unless Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit commits not to open an investigation against him, as he did against former communications minister Netanyahu in Case 4000.

In Case 4000, Netanyahu, when also serving as communications minister, is alleged to have secured improved coverage from the Walla website belonging to Elovitch’s Eurocom, in a quid pro quo arrangement in which he approved business arrangements of immense financial benefit to Elovitch, the then majority shareholder in Israel’s Bezeq telecommunications giant.

Searchlight said in the filing Wednesday, that if the control permit is not issued by the close of business day Wednesday, then they understand that the “closing shall not occur prior to the end date, due to the time period required to complete various actions between the issuance of the control permit and the closing.”|

The ministry did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

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