Four employees of the East Jerusalem office of Israel’s Interior Ministry and dozens of other suspects were arrested Sunday as part of an investigation into an alleged pay-to-play operation at the overwhelmed branch.
Police believe the four clerks at the Interior Ministry’s Population and Immigration Authority collected hundreds of thousands of shekels in bribes in exchange for expediting wait times at the office, which serves mainly Palestinians.
The lines at the branch have become intolerably long in recent years. A Palestinian resident seeking a travel document (a laissez passer, issued in place of a passport), to register a change of address or the birth of a child, for example, must make an appointment months in advance and wait for hours outside the building. The long waits and difficult conditions have been the subject of petitions to the High Court of Justice as well as debates by the Knesset Interior and Environment Committee.
On Saturday, police disclosed a months’-long undercover investigation of bribery allegations.
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Police say they also uncovered a racket involving an Interior Ministry app for reserving appointments. East Jerusalem residents needing in-person ministry services discovered there were no available appointments for months in advance. Investigators found that the suspects reserved hundreds of appointments, each of which they then sold for hundreds of shekels.
Of the 83 people who were arrested, on charges of bribery, fraud, breach of trust and money laundering, 23 — including the four clerks — are considered primary suspects. Tens of thousands of shekels in cash and six vehicles were seized in the operation.
Just last week, new offices were dedicated of the Interior Ministry’s Population and Immigration Authority at the Qalandiyah checkpoint, meant to provide services to East Jerusalem residents. The new facility aims to ease the pressure on the central office in the Wadi Joz neighborhood. The Interior Ministry announced three months ago that East Jerusalem residents would also be able to receive services in the western part of the capital, but that solution is considered only a partial one as most of the services are still only available in East Jerusalem.