The Israeli-American Shabtai family will earn upwards of $496 million for their 55.2% stake in the Israeli telecoms start-up Viber, which is set to be acquired by Japan’s Rakuten for $900 million, according to Israeli business daily Globes.
The Shabtai family’s holding company iMESH includes brothers Benny and Gilad Shabtai and the latter’s son, Ofer, but, as Globes noted, most of the tax from the messaging app’s sale will not go to the Israeli government since the Shabtais are U.S. residents, the Algemeiner reported last week.
According to Globes, Benny Shabtai’s career began with him serving as a security officer at the Israeli embassy in Paris. He then made a fortune in America by importing Raymond Weil watches from Switzerland.
“As investors the family has profited from positions in Israeli high-tech and defense industry firms,” Algemeiner explained.
It was also reported that Viber had not raised money from venture capital funds, with only $30 million in shareholder capital. Other shareholders of Viber include Raphael Rebhan, who owns a 12.5% stake through the U.S. investment company IRS West, and Viber CEO and founder Talmon Marco, who holds an 11.4% stake in the company.
Last week, Hiroshi Mikitani, the Japanese billionaire who controls Rakuten, said that Viber will help provide a distribution channel for Rakuten’s digital products. Viber has more than 300 million users for its instant messaging and free Internet phone services, according to Jewish Business News.
The purchase of Viber is the third major takeover of an Israeli start-up company in the past year. In June 2013, Google acquired the social networking traffic app Waze for close to a billion dollars, while IBM acquired the cyber-security company Trusteer in August.
According to Reuters, the deal between Rakuten and Viber will more than double the number of users in Rakuten’s massive digital empire.
Rakuten services range from financing to shopping on the popular e-commerce platform, which happens to be the largest in Japan, according to Reuters. Viber, which is privately owned and operates from Cyprus by the Israeli entrepreneur Talmon Marco, will give an additional 300 million users to Rakuten's current 200 million users, Mikitani recently told reporters.
"This acquisition... will take Rakuten to a different level," Mikitani said.
According to Reuters “the all-cash deal was announced after Rakuten reported an 80 percent jump in its 2013 operating profit.”
"Developing this messaging system on our own would have been impossible," Mikitani added.
According to Reuters, “Viber is one of the top five most downloaded smartphone phone call and messaging apps, and counts the United States, Russia and Australia among its biggest markets.”