No prosecution is over until the judge’s gavel comes down for the final time. Legally, the 15 detained and remanded Ashdod Port honchos, headed by formidable union boss Alon Hassan, are presumed innocent at this stage of the sordid saga. They are suspected of a slew of corruption crimes including bribery, extortion, money laundering, fraud and abuse of power.
That said, however, Ashdod Port (whose employees are by far the highest paid in the public sector) has for years given off an overpowering stench. It is good to know that during the past year something, undercover, was being done about it.
The police investigation has finally come to light in open court. This means that the public will not be left at the mercy of shady strongmen who treat public assets as their own.
The investigation was spearheaded by the police’s Lahav 433 anti-corruption unit in tandem with the Tax Authority, the state prosecution and the Money Laundering and Terror-Financing Prohibition Authority. Homes and offices were raided to check for links to organized crime and substantiate allegations that key port employees advanced the interests of private companies they, kin and cronies control.
These companies allegedly applied extortionist pressures to port clients, service-providers and/or suppliers. No competition with these nepotistic firms was tolerated, regardless of the cost to the port, the economy, the national coffers and consumers. Illicit private enterprise, the prosecution says, was placed above all, at the expense of the public.
The magistrate’s court judge decreed: “There is probable cause, and even more than that, to tie Hassan to the charges.”
Hassan paints himself as “the victim of political persecution.” It was all but inevitable that he would. He has attempted, blatantly, to intimidate political foes. He had gone on record threatening Transportation Minister Israel Katz of the Likud and had backed the campaign to topple MK Shelly Yacimovich from her position as Labor Party chairwoman.
This was payback for Katz’s reformist anti-nepotism drive and aim to construct private wharfs at existing ports to deprive the latter of their monopolistic might. Yacimovich was targeted for having dared wallop Hassan as he has never been before and highlighting his lifestyle, hardly compatible with that of a proletarian warrior.
She accused of him of treating Ashdod Port as his personal property, to be used to his advantage and aggrandizement. Hassan, she noted, resides in a “sumptuous home, with a swimming pool in the yard, drives luxury vehicles, operates a plethora of private enterprises – which all mysteriously do business with the port – promotes nepotism and cronyism in public tenders, imposes a reign of terror at the port and even closes it down for private celebrations.”
In retribution, Hassan supported MK Isaac Herzog in Labor’s internal showdown, registered port employees as Labor Party members and helped vote down Yacimovich in the primary. He has now threatened to do the same to Katz in the Likud.
Whatever the outcome of the court proceedings, there is a dangerous and shameless attempt here to skew our democratic processes. This political bullying is self-assured, in-your-face and undisguised.
For decades it flourished under the Histadrut labor federation’s aegis. From time to time, sleazy details surfaced to scandalize public opinion, but the underlying slime was never washed down and mopped up. The labor federation rejected any clean-up as a nefarious plot against unionism. In the interim, rogue unions continued to exploit the system that made them inviolable.
We hope the courts will protect average Israelis from high-handed shenanigans at our ports, because these affect the pockets and the freedoms of us all.
Israel is a virtual island, with no overland traffic from neighboring countries. All surface transport of imports and exports pass through our seaports. Taxpayer cash has been lavished on these installations. It is time union kingpins understand that this is not their money but ours.