Amid the ongoing corruption investigation against Ashdod Port union leader Alon Hassan and allegations of conflicts of interest between his work at the port and his private business associations, TheMarker has learned that police investigators have evidence that implicates Hassan in the port operations of a key private company at the center of suspicions, Dana Port Services and Logistics.
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The company is owned by Hassan’s friend and former business partner Yaniv Balter, but Hassan has vehemently denied any connection to the operations of Dana Logistics. He also presented documentation to Ashdod Port management purportedly showing that there was no link between him and Dana.
The police arrested Hassan and 15 others last Tuesday on suspicion of bribery, extortion and money laundering at the port.
Apart from any evidence in the possession of the police, on Channel 10’s “London and Kirschenbaum” public affairs TV program on Thursday, Yarom Halevy, a lawyer representing Balter, admitted that “in a certain respect, Hassan had involvement in the company,” which he described as “light involvement here and there in Dana’s dealings, as he was involved in other companies that provided services at the port.”
He explained the connection as a natural function of the physical proximity at the port.
The Israel Police, however, are believed to have the testimony of several people who claim that Hassan attended meetings that were set up by Dana Logistics executives with clients of the port. At the meetings, the officials from Dana – including Balter and David Hassan, a cousin of the port union boss – reportedly attempted to convince importers and exporters who used the port to hire Dana Logistics for their ongoing operations and maintenance work there.
Police officials claim these efforts included the message, or at least hints, that if they chose to hire Dana, they would be spared any threat of labor unrest disrupting the services they would receive at the port, and even immunity from intervention on the part of the port management or the Environmental Protection Ministry in connection with their operations. Alon Hassan himself was present at some of these meetings, police say.
One of those meetings is said to have been attended by Gabi Ashkenazi, the former Israel Defense Forces chief of staff who later became chairman of the firm Shemen Oil and Gas Resources, which was apparently seeking warehouse space at the port. Ashkenazi contends that the meeting was convened at the suggestion of the port’s management so that operations would be conducted in cooperation with the port workers’ committee, “to avoid unanticipated delays in the work.”
Ashkenazi said over the weekend that he was unfamiliar with the ownership interests in Dana, and that in his discussion there was never any mention of any personal or business connection between Alon Hassan and Dana. Hassan was arrested last week on suspicion of extortion by threats.
Balter and his brother Uri, who is also an executive at Dana, were also arrested on suspicion of paying bribes, extortion by threat and money laundering. Lawyers for the Balter brothers deny any wrongdoing on their clients’ part.
Any proof of actual business dealings for compensation by Alon Hassan with Dana Logistics would have criminal implications in light of the prohibition barring Hassan – an employee of the port, which is a government corporation – from accepting payment from outside parties for services provided in the context of his port job.
Last July, Hassan was suspended by the Histadrut labor federation as chairman of the mechanical equipment workers’ committee at the port, following allegations at that time of improper business dealings and conflicts of interest at the port. When the labor federation came under pressure to return Hassan to his job, the Histadrut’s then chairman, Ofer Eini, convened a committee to consider the issue. After looking into the matter over the course of three months and after being provided documentation from Hassan himself, the committee concluded that he had no business conflicts of interest with the port, either directly or indirectly.
In addition, Hassan signed an affidavit in which he promised to refrain from any such improper conduct in the future, and agreed that he would be removed from office if he is found to violate this promise. On that basis, the Histadrut agreed to his reinstatement last September. When asked about the decision in light of the current police investigation, the head of the Histadrut committee that handled the matter – labor federation legal adviser Yehiel Shamir – said he and his colleagues followed internal Histadrut procedure and found no grounds at the time to dismiss Hassan.
Eini, who stepped down as Histadrut chairman last month, declined to comment, saying he is now a private citizen. A Histadrut spokesman added that the federation’s bylaws have also been changed, to impose ethical standards on relations between union workers’ committees and their places of employment.