Tel Aviv District Court Judge Varda Alshech today ruled Agrexco will be sold as a going concern to flower growers Gideon Bickel and Chen Lamdan. The announcement comes after months in which Agrexco trustee Adv. Shlomo Nass tried to find a buyer for the fresh producer exporter, which is in liquidation proceedings. Bickel and Lamdan's offer was the higher of two remaining offers for the company.
Agrexco's liquidators, Adv. Amit Lederman and Evyatar Kramer presented the court with the final offers yesterday. Bickel Group Export and Trade Ltd. and Lamdan-controlled Orian SM Ltd. (TASE:ORIN) offered NIS 17.6 million, including NIS 10 million to be paid immediately and the balance over three years. They also undertook to employ 30 of Agrexco's 100 employees. The Flower Board of Israel offered NIS 17 million, including NIS 3 million to be paid immediately and the balance over four years, and to hire 60-80 employees.
Agrexco had 475 employees, including 332 in Israel, when it collapsed under the weight of its €110 million debt, including €30 million to bondholders. It lost €33 million in 2010. The company obtained a stay in proceedings in June, and went into liquidate in September. Agrexco creditors include Ofer Holdings Group to which it owes over €60 million for the lease of two refrigeration ships.
The government owns 30.3% of Agrexco and has a majority on its board of directors. The Plants Production and Marketing Board owns 57%; it is controlled by the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Agriculture, basically rendering it another branch of the government. Tnuva Food Industries Ltd. owns 11%. A year ago, the government planned to float Agrexco on the TASE, and Kesselman and Kesselman pwc Israel valued the company at €110 million. The company exports fresh produce under the Alesia and Carmel brands from 2,000 farmers in Israel to 2,500 customers in 80 countries.
Agrexco was a government monopoly for fresh produce exports (except for citrus) when it was founded in 1956, and later expanded into flower exports. Bickel founded Bickel Flowers in 1976, breaking Agrexco's monopoly, following his successful petition to the High Court of Justice against Agrexco.
Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on October 11, 2011
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