Accusations by a former employee that executives at Rami Levy, the discount supermarket chain, may have broken the law took a serious turn yesterday after police and investigators for the Law, Information and Technology Authority questioned three executives under warning.
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The probe appears to be linked to accusations made public in January over Facebook by a former employee, Elkana Alon, who accused Levy and others at the supermarket chain of ignoring incidents of sexual harassment and engaging in nepotism.
However, the fact that the Law, Information and Technology Authority is involved in the probe indicates that investigators are looking into other accusations Alon made, namely that the company used the database of its cellphone subsidiary, Rami Levy Communications, to gather information on employees and customers.
Neither Rami Levy nor Alon responded to requests for comment by press time. Police declined to confirm any details of the investigation, including whether the Rami Levy chain and its executives were the target.
“In response to journalists’ inquiries, we can confirm that in the framework of an investigation the police are undertaking, officials are being questioned under warning at a public company traded on the stock exchange, among them senior executives. The investigating is just beginning,” a police spokesman said.
The authority, a unit of the Justice Ministry, also confirmed an investigation against an unidentified publicly traded company was under way. “The involvement of the authority is in aspects of the investigation touching on the use of personal information,” it said.
Shares of Rami Levy ended down 2.9% at 170.80 shekels ($43.87) in Tel Aviv Stock Exchange trading yesterday.
Alon’s accusations have hurt Levy’s public image, which he has carefully cultivated over the years, as a friend of the consumer and a David battling supermarket Goliaths as his business has grown from a small Jerusalem grocery into one of the country’s biggest supermarket chains.
Rami Levy Communications, an offshoot formed in 2012, is a tiny cellular company that offers services by piggybacking on Pelephone’s network. But, like other mobile operators, it maintains a database of customers, their identity numbers, addresses and credit card details. A cellular company can also follow where a subscriber is when the phone is in use.
Rami Levy Communications’ license requires it to put up a firewall between its subscriber database and the rest of the company, and it maintains its own billing system. As a rule, cellular companies jealously guard subscriber data, even internally, allowing only small numbers of employees’ access to it.
Alon, who worked briefly for Rami Levy as head of the communications business, has claimed that Levy himself and members of his family made frequent use of subscriber information. In a series of interviews in the month and a half since he raised the accusations, Alon has expanded on his initial claims.
“Rami Levy Shivuk Hashikma [the company’s full name] and Rami levy Communications made constant use over four years of these databases for personal use,” Alon told Channel 2 in one interview.
Referring to Ophir Attias, an executive, Alon alleged: “When Ophir’s house was broken into, he took out [location-]monitoring information on all the employees for that Saturday. When Rami needed information on specific people, he used to turn to the person entrusted with these systems and tell him to take out [information].”
In an interview with TheMarker last week, Levy reiterated that Alon’s accusations had no factual basis and said as a virtual cellphone operator it couldn’t track customer communications.