On Tuesday, after an undercover investigation that police conducted in cooperation with the Israel Tax Authority and the Israel Money Laundering and Terror Financing Prohibition Authority, 15 people were arrested on suspicion of large-scale corruption at Ashdod Port, including Alon Hassan, chairman of the port’s union. They are suspected, among other things, of bribery, fraud, breach of trust, extortion and violations of the Prohibition on Money Laundering Law.
It is to be hoped that the investigation and arrests will expose what happened at Ashdod Port and help to answer a list of questions: How one man – Hassan – gained control of such an important government company without anyone or anything to hinder him; how a long list of people cooperated with him, either actively or by turning a blind eye; and how Israel’s principal maritime gateway, through which half its international trade passes, was abandoned to lawlessness.
Over the last few years, a series of investigative reports have been published on the goings-on at Ashdod Port. Sharon Shpurer and Avi Bar-Eli published reports in Haaretz and TheMarker about Hassan’s private business dealings with port customers and the problematic practices employed in hiring new workers. They reported on Dana Port Services and Logistics, a company run by Hassan’s cousin and owned by Hassan’s partner in an Ashdod steakhouse. This company offered paid supervisory and logistics services to port customers, while making use of the port’s infrastructure. Another report disclosed that someone had contacted the managers of two companies operating at the port and promised to ensure “quiet” for them in exchange for 15 percent of their profits. Still another report revealed that Hassan and his business partner appear to have been involved in an attempt to defraud the tax authorities via inflated invoices.
The port’s management, led by CEO Shuki Sagis, and its board of directors, led first by former police Maj. Gen. Jacob Raz and then by Gideon Siterman, have known about Hassan’s private business dealings at the port and his problematic conduct since October 2011. The finance minister during the relevant years, Yuval Steinitz; the head of the Government Companies Authority at the time, Doron Cohen; and Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz were also aware of the media reports, but didn’t take the action needed to stop the deterioration. “The board of directors of Ashdod Port investigated and found no flaw in [Hassan’s] conduct,” read the Government Companies Authority’s response to an inquiry from TheMarker in December 2012.
Ashdod Port has become a symbol of corruption that takes place shamelessly, in broad daylight. This corruption must be uprooted by all possible means – partly to rehabilitate the port, but above all to send a message to the public that the state has had it with corruption in general, and with corruption in the public sector in particular.
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