US businesses complained that Israeli officials demanded bribes in order to allow American goods into Gaza, according to a diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks on Thursday.

The cable, released in June 2006, explains that "shipments of American goods, amounting to nearly USD 1.9 million dollars, have been waiting three to four months to cross into Gaza. US distributors assert they are being asked to pay 'special fees' which amount to as much as 75 times the standard processing fee."

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The distributors are some of the more recognizable American brands, such as Coca-Cola, Proctor & Gamble, Caterpillar, Philip Morris, Hewlett Packard, Motorola and Dell computers.

The cable reads: "The normal cost of shipping cargo is USD 600-650...and the standard processing fee at Karni is NIS 370...[Coca Cola distributor Joerg] Hartmann alleged that he has been asked to pay as much as NIS 13,000-15,000 per truckload. The AmCit Westinghouse general manager supplied FCS with invoices where he was charged NIS 14,000 and NIS 28,000 per truckload."

Distributors who pay the bribes are guaranteed the first place in line, or a spot near the front of the "Israeli line," which moves more quickly. Hartmann said that the bribery ring was headed by "a certain high-leve official at the terminal."

In a meeting between the distributors, US embassy officials and Karni officials, the Israelis "did not address the issue of bribes, but suggested that the USG either push the Palestinian Authority to allow the businessmen to ship through Kerem Shalom or fund the purchase of more conveyor belts at Karni."

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