A sudden surge of last-second interest had no less than eight groups filing to bid for

Blue Square (NYSE, TASE:

BSI

), and five for Hamashbir Lazarchan, Doron Cohen, the chairman of the Blue Square Co-operative Society, told TheMarker.

Today was the final day for bidders to buy tender documents for the society's holdings in the Blue Square food retail chain, and in the Hamashbir department store chain.

Market sources had expected far fewer bids.

The next stage is to filter the bidders, Cohen said, after which the society will grant access to confidential information for purposes of due diligence by the potential buyers. He estimates that due diligence inspections can begin in a couple of weeks.

Not all the buyers have been disclosed, but one last-second participant is known to be the

Kardan (TASE:

KRDN

) investment group.

Another consortium consists of the

Gmul Investment Company (TASE:

GMUL

), the Mivtachim pension fund, and the

Delek (TASE:

DLEKG

) group.

Another known group consists of businessman Zadik Bino, together with

Bank Leumi (TASE:

LUMI

).

A third group comprises Gaon Holdings, run by businessman Benny Gaon who used to chair the Blue Square society, together with the Disney family's investment company Shamrock, the Zakai family, and a foreign investor.

A fourth group consists of Amnon Dick, Deutsche Bank and an unnamed European investor.

Real estate tycoon Motti Zisser is also trying his luck, as is the Barzani family.

The tender, published on August 15, 2002, is part of the society's reorganization program. It plans to sell all its holdings in three main assets: Blue Square, Hamashbir, and the Ikea furniture store. But plans to sell its Ikea holdings have been iced over disagreement with the parent multinational.

TheMarker has also learned that the international investment fund Apax contacted several of the expected contenders for Blue Square and offered to finance part of the deal. Among others, the fund contacted businessman Zadik Bino. Market sources believe its motives derive from its strategy of financing leveraged buyouts around the world.

Apax commented that its representatives did meet with Bino, but that financing a Blue Square deal had not been on the agenda.

Bino commented that he does not need help with financing the deal, since arrangements have already been made. Financing is likely to come from his partner in contending for Bank Leumi, namely

Bank Leumi (TASE:

LUMI

).

Apax' spokesperson emphasized that the fund is not party to any bids for Blue Square.