A call center worker at a company providing services to the Health Ministry was arrested on Thursday on suspicion of taking bribes to remove people listed for COVID-19 quarantine.
The call center fielded calls from people appealing Health Ministry notifications that their cell phones had been located near a virus carrier, requiring them to self-isolate.
Raid al Afinish, 24, of Rahat, whose job was to evaluate people’s appeals, allegedly took financial bribes from several people appealing against the requirement for them to self-isolate. In exchange, he removed their names from the Health Ministry’s list of people who must enter isolation, meaning they were then free to leave their home.
Israel Police are also expected to investigate the individuals suspected of bribing Afinish to remove their names from the list of people required to enter self-isolation.
Afinish’s lawyer, Itay Bin Noon, said at the Rishon Letzion Magistrate’s Court on Thursday that his client had only taken one name off the list. “He is a naive guy, with no criminal record. He came and reported the incident of his own accord,” he said.
Bin Noon said the police wouldn’t allow his client to consult with him before his interrogation. But Judge Zohar Divon Segal stated that this was allegedly not an isolated occurrence and the suspect had repeated the offense many times.
“The case indicates that the suspect took advantage of his position and instructed people’s release from self-isolation without the epidemiological examination that permits it, for money,” she wrote in her ruling to extend his custody by eight days.
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“The danger [imposed] by the suspect is extremely high, for he is suspected of instructing the release of people from isolation, which could pose a health risk for the public at large,” she wrote.
The bribery law refers to public officials who take bribery for acts relating to their position, but it enables putting on trial workers of private companies that provide public services and are hired by ministries.
In 2009, the Supreme Court ruled that employees of private companies that provide services to ministries are also to be seen as public workers.
This was part of a verdict handed to a security guard in the Interior Ministry office in East Jerusalem, who was convicted of taking 500 shekel ($145) bribes for letting people into the ministry without standing in line. The guard, Barak Cohen, was sentenced to four years in prison.
The police asked the public to “obey the Health Ministry’s instructions and directives, because ignoring them disrupts the national effort to fight the virus outbreak and [its] spread in Israel. People who break the ministry’s isolation orders may spread the virus and infect others, endangering their lives without their knowledge. The police will take the harshest measures possible with anyone who ignores the ministry’s orders and causes a risk of spreading the coronavirus, negligently or deliberately.”