Saban/Apax Increase Bezeq Stake

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – A group led by media mogul Haim Saban and private equity firm Apax Partners exercised its option to buy an additional 10.66 percent of Bezeq Israel Telecom (BEZQ.TA: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz) for 1.08 billion shekels ($318 million).

In late 2005, Saban, Apax and businessman Mori Arkin bought a controlling 30 percent stake from the government in Bezeq, Israel’s dominant phone and telecoms company, for 4.2 billion shekels. It received an option to buy an additional 10.66 percent within four years.

Saban-Apax-Arkin now holds 40.66 percent of Bezeq and the state has received a total of 5.82 billion shekels for its privatisation of Bezeq including dividends, the Finance Ministry said in a statement.

The state’s stake in Bezeq has dropped to about five percent, the ministry said, noting it will fall to one percent in early 2010 after workers exercise options.

Bezeq has a market share of 85 percent in the fixed line telephony market. It also owns 50 percent of digital satellite TV provider YES, all of mobile phone company Pelephone — Israel’s third largest mobile operator — and an international unit that offers long distance and Internet services.

Shares of Bezeq were down 0.9 percent in afternoon trading in Tel Aviv compared with gains of 0.7 percent on the broader bourse.

($1 = 3.40 shekels)

(Reporting by Steven Scheer, Editing by Tova Cohen/Elaine Hardcastle)