Russian Jewish billionaire Roman Abramovich has been spotted strolling around Tel Aviv's Rothschild Boulevard, fueling speculation that the Chelsea FC owner, worth an estimated $8.1 billion, could be acquiring Israeli mobile operator Golan Telecom Ltd.
The timing is interesting. Late last month it was reported that Israel's Ministry of Communications had informed Golan Telecom by letter that it had been approached by businesspeople interested in acquiring the company. The Ministry of Communications reportedly said that the businesspeople in question are Abramovich and Israeli startup entrepreneur Oded Kobo, adding that such an option is preferable than its plan to be acquired by Cellcom Israel Ltd. (NYSE:CEL; TASE:CEL), which is opposed by the Israel Antitrust Authority.
Golan Telecom is still focusing on its relationship with Cellcom, if not by acquisition, then by network sharing and becoming a Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO). Such a partnership violates the terms of Golan's license, which requires it to build its own network.
Abramovich and Kobo's offer reshuffles the pack. In order to enhance competition, the Ministry of Communications is pushing for Golan to be sold to a new party rather than form a partnership with Cellcom.
Abramovich has been a frequent visitor to Israel in recent years and in April 2015 he paid NIS 100 million for Tel Aviv's Varsano Hotel in Neve Tzedek. He plans converting the boutique hotel into his Israeli home.
Abramovich has also built up an investment portfolio of Israeli high-tech startup companies. This was where he met Kobo when he led a $30 million investment round in Kobo's startup Music Messenger, which provides an app allowing music to be messaged to friends. Other Israeli startups which Abramovich has invested in include on-demand transport company Via, battery charging developer StoreDot, pipe inspection company AcousticEye, content marketing platform AnyClip Media, and electronic capsule developer MelCap. He also has investments in Israeli venture capital firms AltaIR and iAngels.
Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on June 5, 2016
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