New law would ban investing in companies with Iran ties

On heels of Ofer brothers affair, Knesset moves to block any money to Iran; similar bill from Netanyahu has yet to be implemented.

By RON FRIEDMAN
June 2, 2011 20:57
3 minute read.
Yuli (L) and Sami Ofer in Tel Aviv, January 1999.

ofer brothers_311 reuters. (photo credit: Reuters Photographer / Reuters)

 
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In the wake of the Ofer brothers affair, a new bill prohibiting investment in companies that do business with Iran will be put to a vote in the Ministerial Legislative Committee on Sunday.

Likud MK Carmel Shama-Hacohen proposed the bill, Thursday, determining that such an investment would carry a year’s prison sentence and a fine of NIS 5 million, or three times the amount the investor earned from dealings with Iran, whichever amount is higher.

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Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu sponsored a similar bill in 2008, when he was opposition leader. The bill, which passed with overwhelming support after Netanyahu persuaded the coalition to back it, was intended to prevent Israeli banks, insurance companies, financial institutions and funds from investing in companies that do major business with Iran.

An interministerial committee has been working for six months on producing a list of companies that do business with Iran, and setting guidelines and punishments for them, but the list has yet to be completed, and therefore the law has yet to be implemented.

The announcement of the new bill came a day after former Mossad head Meir Dagan said he didn’t believe that the Ofer brothers had broken any law when ships belonging to the family’s company docked in Iranian ports.

“I am not the Ofer family’s protector, they don’t need me to protect them. Not all the facts are known, and the question is whether or not they broke the law,” said Dagan during a conference at Tel Aviv University on Wednesday. “Based on what I know, they didn’t break any law if they just sent goods to Iran.”



While Israel may not have a law that specifically forbids docking in enemy ports, it does have one that prohibits trading with an enemy state or its citizens. The law, derived from a 1939 British Mandate-era act determines that it is a criminal offense, punishable by up to seven years in prison, to conduct business with enemies or enemy states, specifying Iran, Syria and Lebanon as countries falling under the act.

The Finance Ministry is currently investigating whether the docking in Iran of ships owned by the family’s companies or the sale of a tanker to the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines, as announced last week by the US State Department, falls under actions prohibited by the act.

Meanwhile, Shama-Hacohen requested on Thursday that the Knesset’s discussion of the Ofer Brother Group’s trade with Iran be moved to the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.

“In light of the sensitive aspects of this issue, it is necessary to hold the discussion in a closed forum in order to allow for parliamentary supervision and a clarification of the facts,” Shama-Hacohen said.

The matter had been discussed on Tuesday in a meeting of the Economics Committee, which Shama- Hacohen chairs, and was abruptly closed after he received a mysterious note. The Likud MK has refused to divulge the note’s contents.

American blogger Richard Silverstein posted an entry on Tuesday quoting a “senior Israeli politician” saying that the Ofer brothers’ ships had been used to smuggle Mossad agents into Iran.

He cited on Thursday a confirmation by “a source close to the Ofer family” saying that “Israeli officials have been assisted in a number of cases in recent years by the Ofer family’s business activities in the Persian Gulf for ‘national needs.’”

Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.

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