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Fervently Orthodox Executive to Buy Manufacturer of Bikinis

Lev Levayev is not about to let a little skin get in the way of business.

The Africa-Israel Corp., which the fervently Orthodox Levayev controls, plans to purchase an 80 percent stake in Gottex, an Israeli swimsuit company known for its daring bikini designs.

The move, which will mark Africa-Israel’s entry into the clothing industry, raised questions about whether Levayev would try to revamp Gottex’s production line because of his religious beliefs.

Levayev recently created a controversy when he said he would not allow the operation on the Sabbath of a movie theater and fast-food restaurant in a shopping mall built by Africa-Israel in the Tel Aviv suburb of Ramat Aviv. He also wanted to make a McDonald’s restaurant in the mall kosher.

This week, however, a company spokesman said that Levayev had no intention of altering the revealing Gottex designs.

“Africa-Israel is a company. It is not defined as a religious or secular company. Levayev will not change the production line. The purpose is to strengthen [Gottex] and get it back on top.”

Africa-Israel negotiated the deal for Gottex with Leah Gottlieb, who held the controlling share in the financially troubled company.

Gottex has debts totaling some $30 million to $35 million, including about $18 million dollars owed to suppliers.

Creditor banks gave Gottlieb three months to find a strategic investor, saying they would otherwise go to court in an effort to dissolve the company.

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