A screenshot of the "Europnim" company website.
(photo credit: ISRAEL POLICE)
The Israel Police has launched an urgent fraud investigation after more than 2,000 ultra-Orthodox Jews intending to travel for Rosh Hashanah to Uman, Ukraine are suspected to have been deceived into paying for tickets that never materialized, potentially defrauding customers of more than $1.3 million.
Authorities launched the investigation after receiving complaints by two individuals who purchased tickets worth $635 each from the "Europnim" travel company.
One day ahead of the scheduled flight to Uman, the company informed travelers that it would not be able to fulfill the booking. The tickets were cancelled but the money was not returned.
Two key suspects, the 29-year-old owners of "Europnim," were arrested by police investigators on Sunday on suspicion of fraudulently obtaining benefits under aggravating circumstances, forgery with intent to defraud, money-laundering and other offenses.
Police allege that the suspects drew up a contract with an individual outside of Israel representing an airline company operating flights between Israel and Ukraine, and ordered more than 2000 flight tickets worth more than $1.3 million.
Furthermore, it is believed that the suspects were in contact with a third individual, also 29 years old, who was arrested Monday at Tel Aviv's Ben-Gurion Airport and suspected of attempting to flee the country.
He told investigators that he sought to subsidize the cost of the plane tickets to Uman if the owners of "Europnim" sent him the money. He said he would then subsidize the cost and transfer the money to the airline company.
Police suspect that the large sum of money was laundered by the three suspects and used for their personal benefit.
Last year, approximately 30,000 Jews - mostly ultra-Orthodox - marked Rosh Hashanah in Uman
, where the founder of the Breslov hassidic dynasty Rabbi Nachman of Breslov is buried.
Only a small community of Jews remains in the Ukrainian town, but the annual Rosh Hashanah pilgrimage brings an influx of visitors and the local economy is heavily dependent on its Jewish visitors.
Police have appealed to members of the public who may have purchased tickets from "Europnim", or who have been similarly targeted by other companies, to file a complaint at their local police station.
Jerusalem's Magistrate Court extended the custody on Monday of the two "Europnim" owners until Thursday.
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