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TEL AVIV, Sept 24 (Reuters) - Billionaire Shari Arison has signed a non-binding agreement to bring on board three North American financial institutions to share her controlling interest in Bank Hapoalim, Israel's biggest bank.
Arison is in a preliminary agreement to sell 49 percent of Arison Holdings, through which she holds a controlling 20 percent stake in Hapoalim that is valued at 6.5 billion shekels ($1.9 billion).
The price will be calculated according to Arison Holdings' equity, based on a valuation for Hapoalim of 24.82 shekels per share, Arison Holdings said on Sunday. Arison said there was no certainty that a deal, which requires approval from the Bank of Israel, will be completed.
The potential buyers -- two financial institutions and one investment group -- do not yet have any strategic investments in Israel. They would enter the controlling shareholder group in Hapoalim as long-term strategic investors.
"Once the transaction will be completed, we will act together with our new partners, and with the bank's management and employees, to enhance responsible long-term growth for the benefit of all stakeholders, customers and the Israeli market," Arison Holdings said in a statement.
The Bank of Israel, the country's banking regulator, has a positive initial impression of the investors and sees the deal as an indication of trust in the Israeli banking system, said sources who are close to the matter.
The central bank declined to comment.
The Arison family has controlled Hapoalim for two decades. Arison’s father, Ted, who made his fortune as founder of Carnival Cruise Line, was part of a consortium that bought control of the bank from the government. Arison, Israel’s wealthiest woman, has since bought out her partners.
Shares in Hapoalim, which is the subject of an investigation by U.S. authorities over possible tax evasion by the bank's U.S. clients, were up 1.8 percent at 24.57 shekels in afternoon trading in Tel Aviv. ($1 = 3.4913 shekels) (Reporting by Tova Cohen and Steven Scheer; Editing by Toby Chopra and David Goodman)