Ashdod Port customers were pressured to use private service providers tied to port union boss Alon Hassan, the government-held port company admitted in court yesterday.
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“Having a port worker who’s also union chairman - a central position that holds influence over port operations - who also has personal, familial and business ties to a private company that provides a wide range of services to port customers, is a clear example of a case where there could be forbidden conflicts of interest,” said the Ashdod Port company.
The statement comes from an explanation the company filed with the Be’er Sheva District Court last week, and comes after years of ignoring Hassan’s private business affairs at the port where he headed the workers’ union.
The statement was submitted in response to a request for an urgent injunction filed by Dana Port Services and Logistics, one of the companies with ties to Hassan. Two weeks ago, the port decided to sever ties with Dana and vacate its offices on port premises, forbidding its employees from entering the port.
The private company asked the court to issue an injunction against the port’s ruling, calling it a “death blow.”
Dana is owned by Yaniv Balter, Hassan’s business partner, and its operations manager is Hassan’s cousin David Hassan. Hassan’s brother-in-law also works for Dana.
In a court hearing yesterday, Dana’s attorney agreed to drop the suit, while the port agreed to let Dana’s employees continue serving one customer and to let the company’s managers oversee the removal of company property from port premises.
The port’s board of directors spent the past several months discussing Dana Logistics and trying to figure out how to enforce the Government Companies Authority’s order to stop using service providers with ties to Hassan. In addition, the port allegedly provided Dana with space to run its operations without issuing a tender.
In its response to Dana’s petition, the court described how this conflict of interest allegedly expressed itself.
The port states: “During the many years Hassan served in his positions he bought himself a special standing and significant power among port workers. He can help and harm them, beyond his influence on workers as a collective. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say the workers consider him their leader and heed his authority, and his word is a command regarding everything that has to do with labor relations at the port.” There is a built-in conflict of interest in Hassan’s role as the workers’ representative and his personal interests due to his ties to service providers that serve the ports’ customers, who are also dependent on the port workers, it adds.
An external probe ordered by port management confirmed suspicions that Hassan has business, familial and personal ties to Dana Logistics, alleges the court.
“The probe also found indications that the ties between the petitioner and Hassan, and that Hassan’s significant influence at the port, were used to pressure port customers to use the petitioner’s services over those of competitors,” states the port.
The port cites examples from Sharon Shpurer’s investigative report for Haaretz on the affair to substantiate its allegations. In one case, David Hassan presented himself to representatives of Israel Chemicals as “Alon’s cousin,” adding that they’d be wise to work with Dana. “When ICL [Israel Chemicals] rejected the proposal, port workers allegedly let part of a sulfur shipment spill into the sea, causing ICL damage and resulting in allegations that the company was violating environmental regulations,” states the port.
The second example involves Hassan’s decision to halt scrap metal loading operations in response to enforcement by the Environmental Protection Ministry against port workers.
“The moment the scrap metal exporters signed an agreement with Dana to oversee the loading operations, only then did the port workers return to work,” states the port in its response. “As a port worker, Hassan should represent and serve the interests of the port as a whole, while giving fair and equal service to all port customers. But due to Hassan’s standing, concerns exist that workers will favor port customers that do business with Dana over other port customers.”
Hassan’s attorney Ronel Fisher stated in response, “The port is making cynical and shameless use of the fact that Hassan is not a party to its legal proceedings with Dana, and rightly so, since he has no connection to the affair. The bad-mouthing of Hassan in the port’s response, which includes downright lies, rests on the fact that Hassan cannot refute them.”