Power lines.
Power lines. Photo by Itzik Ben-Malki
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Police suspect that a plant-pruning cartel fixed prices and bribed officials at the Jewish National Fund, the Israel Electric Corporation, the Israel Defense Forces and several municipalities to promote their interests.

The material has been delivered to the antitrust Authority, which has to recommend whether or not to pursue charges, and to the State Prosecutor's Office for the same reason.

A number of landscaping companies are suspected of taking in hundreds of millions of shekels, charging inflated prices for pruning services incurred as a result of the price-fixing.

In addition, various city officials have been questioned on suspicion of taking bribes or providing insider information to the tree trimmers.

This is how the system worked: When one of the public bodies - the electric company, for instance - published a large tender for landscaping or pruning (under high-tension lines, let's say ), the companies would coordinate their bids, thus setting the bar artificially high.

The landscaping companies' owners are suspected of coordinating in advance who would win each tender and how they would split the work and the income. They allegedly raised their prices sharply over the years, at the expense of the general public and, in some cases, are believed to have bribed officials for inside information that helped them prepare their bids.

The investigation began in December, led by the National Fraud Squad and assisted by the investigative division of the Israel Antitrust Authority and the military police. They called their investigation "Weeds in the Underbrush" and found evidence indicating that the landscaping companies had formed a cartel.

The first information about the affair concerned price-fixing for tenders issued by the IEC and municipalities for landscaping and pruning services, in contracts worth tens of millions of shekels a year.

Dozens of people, including the owners of the landscaping companies, are suspected of involvement in the cartel. Nine people were detained during the course of the investigation and the rest were questioned under caution.