Israeli Health Ministry to Probe Quarantine Exemption for Billionaire in Private Jet

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Health Ministry Director General Moshe Bar Siman Tov, right, and Deputy Director-General Itamar Grotto, left, in a press conference.
Health Ministry Director General Moshe Bar Siman Tov, right, and Deputy Director-General Itamar Grotto, left, in a press conference. Credit: Moti Milrod

The director general of the Health Ministry told his second in command that an “immediate conclusion must be drawn” if the deputy director general exempted a businessman from Israel’s mandatory two-week quarantine after his return from abroad.

Israel Channel 12 News reported Wednesday that the deputy director general of the Health Ministry, Prof. Itamar Grotto, gave Teddy Sagi an exemption from the government’s 14-day self-isolation requirement for anyone returning from abroad, as part of measures to control the spread of the coronavirus.

Israeli-Cypriot businessman Teddy Sagi is known as an entrepreneur who accumulated his wealth from online betting. Today his main business activity focuses on international real estate, especially in Great Britain. 

In a written message he sent Grotto later Wednesday, Health Ministry Director General Moshe Bar Simon Tov demanded an explanation. He also asked Grotto whether similar incidents took place in the past.

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein had instructed Bar Siman Tov to ask Grotto for a clarification.

In a statement, the Health Ministry said it was wrong to grant Sagi the exemption. Edelstein said the incident would be investigated.

“This is a serious violation of the public trust and a serious error in judgment,” Edelstein said after the details were published. “I won’t be forgiving with cases like these.” Edelstein added that he would investigate the matter “with all of the significant resources at my disposal,” and that he expected an answer by Thursday.

According to the Channel 12 report, Sagi turned to Grotto after Bar Siman Tov denied his request. Sagi reportedly produced the permit issued by Grotto after Health Ministry officials considered charging him with violating quarantine regulations, an offense that can result in a fine of 5,000 shekels ($1,450) fine.

Associates of Sagi said the billionaire businessman submitted medical documents in order to obtain the exemption. They noted that Cyprus, from which Sagi had flown to Israel on his private plane, has had very few coronavirus cases. Sagi said in a written response that he had arrived in Israel legally and had complied with the law and with instructions he had received.

According to the Health Ministry, 214 people were diagnosed with COVID-19 in Israel on Thursday. The total number of cases now stands at 18,569, with 3,019 of those being active.

During a statement to the press, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cautioned that Israel may have to reimpose restrictions on movement and businesses, as the infection rate continues to rise.

As of Thursday morning, 442 students and educators tested positive for the coronavirus in Israel, out of 2.3 million students and 200 thousand teaching staff.

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