In September 2003, Yom-Tov Samia, chairman of the Sports Betting Council, was on his way to the office of the engineering firm he headed when he received a phone call. On the line was a senior official from the Betting Council. "Get here now, otherwise I'm going to call a press conference that will shake the country," the voice warned.
Samia turned around and rushed to the council's offices, only to find the council's director, Shaul Shneider, and its chief of staff, Yitzhak Shani, fighting. After the two were separated, Samia asked each of them for their version of events, and was astounded.
He was mostly shocked by what Shani had to say. According to the chief of staff, the fight was over an admission by Shahak Levy, the council's deputy computer manager, that he had been pressured by criminals to introduce a new program they had developed into the mainframe computer. The program would enable them to obtain, in real time, the names and addresses of those who had won prizes.
The aim of the criminal organization in question, which was later identified by the police as the one headed by Ze'ev Rosenstein, was to tap into a database of some 400,000 subscribers to the Toto lottery, which is managed by the Betting Council, and access their names and addresses as they were relayed to the mainframe computer. The program the criminals had prepared would have allowed them to threaten the subscribers or obtain their winnings by other means.
An initial investigation carried out by the Betting Council found that the people involved were well known in the corridors of the organization. Secretaries and other minor functionaries working at the Betting Council said that since Shneider was appointed, various unidentified persons had begun roaming the conference rooms and the offices - people who the council workers nicknamed "People of the Belts."
An internal document subsequently sent to the state comptroller and to then-minister of education and sport Limor Livnat said that "since Shneider took over, the council has become a political home for dubious figures who had not dared set foot in here before."
"From the start, the director [Shneider] tried to relay information about participants [in the games] to an external body," added another memo sent to the attorney general, the finance minister and the state comptroller. "We consider this a crossing of all boundaries, since it is well known in the council that the criminal underworld has been trying for years to penetrate our systems."
Following his investigation, Samia took action to prevent the program from being introduced into the mainframe. However, he also prevented the story from becoming public.
And the fact that the story was kept quiet only encouraged those seeking access to the data to try again. A year later, they tried a different method: They proposed building a web site for the Betting Council, via which they would be able to tap into Toto Winner, a daily lottery.
But information about their efforts was leaked to former senior police superintendent Ya'akov Borovksy, who at that time headed a bureau that combats corruption in government institutions. Borovksy called in the police, and an investigation of the Betting Council began.
The Betting Council says that over the past three years, there have been at least four instances in which individuals won large sums of money that were then taken by criminals who are well known to police.
Alongside its efforts to combat its internal problems, the Betting Council also decided to fight illegal gambling. The reason was purely economic: According to police and council estimates, the gambling market in Israel totals about NIS 17 billion a year, of which only NIS 7 billion stems from legal gambling.
Over the past few years, police representatives met with officials from Toto and Lotto, another legal lottery, and proposals were made to create a force of 100 officers - a "sports police" - whose activities would be funded by the two organizations.
At one point, the police even recruited criminals who were willing to cross the line and serve as undercover agents who would penetrate the criminal organizations and link them to illegal gambling.
But according to the Betting Council, the policing project collapsed due to insufficient interest on the police's part.
Shneider denied all involvement in the affair yesterday. Shani declined to comment.