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Israel’s Richest Man Risks Anger Over UK Move

John Reed
Tuesday, 9 Apr 2013 | 12:02 AM ET
Billionaire Idan Ofer
Chris Ratcliffe | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Billionaire Idan Ofer

Idan Ofer, Israel's richest man, is relocating to London in a move likely to inflame debate about unfettered wealth and inequality in his country.

Mr. Ofer, 57, who has an estimated net worth of $6.5 billion, is making the move for what an associate said were personal reasons. His mother lives in London and his son recently left the Israeli army and plans to study abroad, possibly in the UK.

"There are a number of family reasons which mean it makes sense for him to spend more time in London than he has previously and make that more of a base," a person close to the Israeli billionaire told the Financial Times on Monday.

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Through Quantum Pacific Group, Mr. Ofer is controlling shareholder in Israel Corp, the country's largest holding company, which has interests in turn in container shipping, automotive, energy, and the fertilizer company Israel Chemicals. Potash Corp of Canada hopes to acquire the latter in what would be the biggest business deal in Israeli history.

Like Israel's other "tycoons", he has suffered a beating from the Israeli media and in public opinion since the 2011 social protests, when hundreds of thousands of middle-class citizens demonstrated against high living costs and an economy largely controlled by a few rich family conglomerates.

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In January's election, new politicians such as Yair Lapid, finance minister, rose to power on promises to help the middle class at a time when Israel needs to cut spending and raise taxes to close a growing budget deficit.

Shelly Yachimovich, leader of the left-wing Labor party, singled out Mr. Ofer for criticism in her campaign.

The Israeli business magnate has long owned property and spent some of his time in London. If he were to qualify for non-domicile tax status, income from his offshore companies will not count towards his tax bill in the U.K.

Associates pointed out that Mr. Ofer had longstanding personal and business ties in Britain. The family shipping business, co-owned with his brother Eyal – who is based in Monaco – runs the largest fleet of British-flagged ships in the world, and there is a wing at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich named after their father Sammy.

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This year has seen wealthy foreigners including Andrei Borodin, the Russian bank chairman, and executives from LVMH and Dassault Systems relocate to London.

On the Forbes list of billionaires, Mr. Ofer ranks number 182, with an estimated net worth of $6.5 billion.

Fellow Israeli billionaire Lev Leviev relocated to London in 2007.

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