Police Probe Corruption at Antiquities Authority

Senior officials at the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) are suspected of involvement in the removal of artifacts from the Old City of Acre.

A senior IAA inspector who complained to the police of the removal of the artifacts and antiquities was suspended by IAA director general Yehoshua Dorfman.

Dorfman allegedly tried to persuade police officers to drop the inquiry they had begun following the inspector's complaint.

Police have also questioned IAA archaeologist Eliezer Stern after he said that the paving stones that had been removed were not antiquities - contrary to his previous statement on the items removed from that site.

The Old City of Acre is a declared antiquities site, and was declared a World Cultural Heritage site by UNESCO in December 2001. IAA inspectors are stationed in the Old City to prevent the theft of antiquities.

The municipal Company for the Development of the Old City of Acre is carrying out several projects in the city together with the IAA.

In June 2005, inspector Yossi Moshe, head of the IAA's unit for preventing theft in the northern district, stopped a truck carrying paving stones out of Acre's Old City without the necessary permits. The paving stones are in high demand and fetch high sums. Several antiquities thieves have been caught trying to remove paving stones from the site's floor, with the intention of seeling them to construction contractors.

This time, however, it transpired that the truck driver was acting on the instructions of the director of the Company for the Development of the Old City of Acre, David Harari. After speaking to Harari on the telephone, Moshe lodged a complaint with the Acre police.

Two days later, Dorfman suspended Moshe from his job, and the IAA complained to the police that he had leaked inside IAA information to the media. On the basis of this complaint, the IAA began procedures for firing Moshe.

Dorfman subsequently stated, on the basis of the opinion provided by Stern, that the stones that were being removed were not antiquities. However, Haaretz has learned of two cases in which people removing paving stones from that site had been indicted. In both cases, Stern testified that the stones were antiquities and the defendants were convicted on the basis of his testimony.

Moshe turned to State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss for help. The comptroller stated that Moshe, who was named outstanding IAA worker in 2001, had done the right thing and acted according to regulations. Lindenstrauss said the moves to dismiss Moshe were illegal and ordered the IAA to resume his employment.

The comptroller wrote in his ruling that Moshe had exposed corruption in his place of work. "The IAA director's request of other workers to write letters against the plaintiff and his remarks against him lead to the conclusion that the plaintiff's exposure of the corruption... is the main cause for his suspension."

Lindenstrauss wrote that the IAA's bid to fire Moshe, who had previously been named an outstanding worker, had been "hasty" and improper.

After being directed to reinstate Moshe, the IAA asked Lindenstrauss for an approval to place him in another position. Lindenstrauss denied the request, and a few weeks ago Moshe resumed his job in the anti-theft unit in the IAA's northern district.

The police's northern district fraud squad is still investigating the affair.

Harari commented that "the stones removed from Acre are not antiquities and all the acts taken in Acre have been approved and supervised by the IAA."

Stern refused to comment.

According to the IAA, "The IAA director did not ask the Acre police to drop the complaint Moshe filed."

IAA sources said Dorfman had met police officers to update them on the internal inquiry he had conducted.

The IAA also said Dorfman had promised to help the police's probe and even instructed Moshe's superior to cooperate with the investigators.

Commenting on Stern's opinion, IAA sources said that other senior officials, including Dorfman's deputy, Uzi Dahari, also believed the stones were not antiquities. They said the comptroller had decided not to launch an inquiry into suspicions of corruption.