Suspicions of Criminal Wrongdoing in Haifa Ammonia Tank Case

After the ammonia storage facility in the Haifa Bay was ordered shut down due to environmental risks, some allegedly worked to financially benefit Haifa Chemicals

Haifa Chemical's ammonia storage tank in Haifa.
Tomer Noyberg

State Comptroller Joseph Shapira informed Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit on Tuesday of criminal suspicions regarding the conduct of the authorities in finding alternatives to the import of ammonia.

Among the issues are the Environmental Protection Ministry’s changing positions on the need for ammonia, the involvement of the National Security Council and the conduct of the Justice Ministry.

The comptroller suspects based on information collected so far that officials allegedly made decisions on alternatives to the import of ammonia, after the ammonia storage facility in the Haifa Bay was ordered shut down due to environmental risks, to financially benefit Haifa Chemicals. They allegedly kept Environmental Protection Ministry officials out of the loop, such as the ministry’s Haifa district director, Shlomo Katz. The probe has also revealed so far that information conveyed to the High Court of Justice did not conform to the facts.

As reported in Haaretz last week, the state comptroller intervened to prohibit the Environmental Protection Ministry director general, Yisrael Danziger, from dealing with Haifa Chemicals, despite a conflict of interests agreement he had signed, after he discovered that Danziger was involved very heavily in the matter.

Comptroller Shapira wrote Mendelblit that he questioned the motivations “of some state officials in the matter,” and suspected unethical actions by officials.

The state comptroller’s office launched an investigation in November, after the failure of a tender to establish an ammonia facility in the south. One of the senior officials involved in allegedly making decisions that benefited Haifa Chemicals is the deputy chairman of the National Security Council, Ze’ev Tzuk-Ram, who claimed that the economy needed ammonia. In one instance, Tzuk-Ram allegedly gave a position paper to the state prosecutor’s office without disclosing that it had come from Haifa Chemicals.

Shapira’s office also found that the Environmental Protection Ministry’s decision on the alternative to the import of ammonia also benefited Haifa Chemicals.

According to the state comptroller, the state prosecution informed the High Court that the economy needs 3,000 tons of ammonia as emergency stocks (a position based on the position of the National Security Council), a position that justified continued use of the ammonia facility, when in fact, the only consumers of this quantity of ammonia are Haifa Chemicals and Israel Chemicals.

The Prime Minister’s Office also allegedly moved to benefit Haifa Chemicals. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his ministry’s director general, Eli Groner, met several times with the owner of a controlling stake in Haifa Chemicals, Jules Trump. Groner allegedly approached the Finance Ministry’s director of budgets, Amir Levi, with a request for a grant of 700 million shekels ($196.3 million) to Haifa Chemicals to establish an ammonia facility in the Negev, supposedly in keeping with the law to encourage capital investment. Levi opposed the initiative.

Haifa Chemicals responded that it had learned of the state comptroller’s approach to the attorney general through the media and had no further information. The company said it had “received the complete opposite of preferential treatment,” due to a “campaign of lies led by [Haifa Mayor] Yona Yahav, which was stuck down by all the experts, and whose entire purpose was to destroy the fertilizer industry and be re-elected mayor.”

The Environmental Protection Ministry commented that it was “shocked to hear from the media of these serious accusations, and to this moment it had received no explanation or information about them. The moment we receive the relevant material we will be able to respond.” The ministry stressed that “all the work of Environmental Protection Ministry staffers relied completely on recommendations by experts in the field from Israel and abroad, and was overseen closely by legal officials, in light of the fact that the matter was under discussion in various courts.”

The Haifa municipality responded: “For a long time we have claimed that big money considerations are inexplicably taking precedence over considerations of the safety of approximately a million citizens of Israel. We gave the large quantity of information we received to the state comptroller. Despite a great deal of pressure on us we stood as we stand now, that the safety of the residents of Haifa is the supreme consideration and only after we are persuaded that this has been taken into consideration will we agree to discuss alternatives The treatment of alternatives must make a 180-degree turn.”

Haifa City Councilman Ron Hanan said: “We welcome the decision of the state comptroller and his team, who accepted our repeated requests to investigate all the suspicions we have raised about the possibly criminal conduct both of senior state employees and of ministers, including the prime minister, in the ammonia affair.” Hanan said a state committee of inquiry should be established to “expose the conduct of interested parties against the public interest, creating a risk of a national disaster in the Haifa area.”

The environmental NGO Zalul said that if the allegations turned out to be true, this would be “a serious failure of the state and a harsh blow to public faith.” Zalul said it had “warned all along that the Environmental Protection Ministry was being held captive by Haifa Chemicals, zigzagging in its positions and not acting transparently In any case the ammonia facility should be shut down as planned on July 31, and any alternative that endangers the residents of the north should be rejected.”