Kosher plant’s sale to Montreal buyer approved

A federal Bankruptcy Court judge in Iowa has approved the sale of what was once the largest kosher meat plant in the U.S. to a new company led by a Montreal businessman.

The Associated Press news service reported Monday that Judge Paul J. Kilburg has approved the sale of Agriprocessors to SHF Industries, formed by Montreal packaging executive Hershey Friedman and his son-in-law, Daniel Hirsch.

Friedman, in an interview published Saturday in the Des Moines Register, told reporter Tony Leys that the facility’s former owners, the Rubashkin family, would have no ownership stake or roles in the plant’s upper management.

That, indirectly, was a condition for the approval of the sale, the newspaper said, reporting that U.S. federal prosecutors are said to have pledged to make no move to seize the plant, if a new owner was shown to have no links to the family.

Iowa state economic development officials also said they would consider helping fund renovations at the plant if a “reputable owner” took over, the newspaper said.

The Rubashkin family, originally from New York City, set up the kosher facility in 1987 at the former HyGrade meat processing plant at Postville, Iowa, about 120 km northwest of Dubuque.

The plant had supplied kosher meat to major retailers such as Kroger and Wal-Mart before a now-nationally infamous raid by U.S. immigration officials in May last year, in which nearly 400 workers were arrested. Sholom Rubashkin, one of the company’s former top executives, is expected in court this fall to face related charges.

Friedman told the Register he did not previously know the Rubashkins. Sholom Rubashkin’s brother Heshy still works at the plant, Friedman said, but is not upper management and never will be again.

A couple of younger Rubashkins might continue to work at Agriprocessors in lower-level positions, the Register quoted Friedman as saying.

Friedman also said managers brought in by the plant’s bankruptcy trustee would continue to run the facility, though he said he may also hire new executives from outside. Friedman himself would “visit regularly,” the newspaper said, but unlike the Rubashkins, he would not move to Iowa.

Agriprocessors has been operating at limited capacity after closing briefly during its bankrputcy, the newspaper said. The plant has processed kosher poultry since then, but has not been processing beef. The Register quoted Friedman as saying he plans to restore production at the plant as quickly as possible, beef included.

Friedman wouldn’t talk about his other business operations with the newspaper. He is known in Montreal as the president of Polystar Packaging, which provides packaging for the food processing, household products, industrial and medical device industries.

Friedman told Leys he decided to invest in Agriprocessors because he wants to help Jewish families obtain affordable kosher food.

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