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(photo credit: Channel 10)
Two civil servants and one Bezek telephone employee were among the 18 people arrested Tuesday and Wednesday under suspicion of trafficking in confidential personal records stolen from government databases.
On Tuesday, 14 suspects were arrested under suspicion of taking and distributing bribes, fraud, breaking the public trust, involvement in a crime and violation of privacy. At least two of the suspects arrested Tuesday were state employees with access to confidential personal records of citizens - one of the suspects, 46-year-old Tel Aviv resident Amir Ben Naim, was a senior coordinator in the Dan region office of the Tax Authority.
A second suspect, Shiri Lahav, 33, allegedly worked as a secretary in the National Insurance Institute, and a third suspect, one of four arrested Wednesday, was an employee at the corporate accounts department at Bezek.
Many of the other suspects arrested Tuesday, as well as the additional three arrested Wednesday were private investigators, who allegedly illegally acquired the confidential records.
Police investigators said Wednesday that they believe that some of the suspects infiltrated databases operated by the NII, Bezek and the Income Tax at the behest of private investigators, withdrawing hundreds of files of personal information. The data, including tax histories and telephone call records, was allegedly handed over in exchange for large amounts of money over the course of a long period of time.
In April 2006, the Tax Authority filed a complaint with the Tel Aviv District Fraud Squad, voicing their suspicion that a certain employee - the senior coordinator arrested Tuesday - had infiltrated the databases for reasons other than his work." Their internal oversight systems worked just as they should have," said Dep.-Cmdr. Aryeh Edelman, commander of the Tel Aviv District Fraud Squad that spearheaded the investigation.
Following the initial complaint, an undercover investigation was initiated by the fraud squad, working together with the Border Police's Barak Unit and the Tel Aviv District Central Investigative Unit [CIU].
In recent months, police detectives uncovered a large amount of information that was taken from databases of public institutions. Police also intercepted both faxes and phone calls in which private investigators were allegedly in contact with a "macher" who could gather personal information in exchange for large sums of money. According to Edelman, police believe that each PI paid the suspects between NIS 10,000-20,000 per month. "Hundreds of thousands of shekels changed hands over this information, whether it was between the workers and the PIs, or whether it was between the PI's and the companies and individuals who employed them to track down people," he told the Post.
Edelman said that the PIs were mostly working for people and companies trying to recover debts, including unpaid bills and delinquent spouses. "Everything was about debts," he summarized. Police said that at least seven private investigative agencies were suspected of involvement in the affair.
Police searches Tuesday revealed equipment that they believed was related to the crimes, as well as thousands of documents including personal information of hundreds of people which was drawn from both government and corporate databases.
The Tel Aviv Magistrate's Court extended the remands of Ben Naim, Lahav and also 42-year-old Haim Liebovich by 12 days Wednesday, and the remands of another 10 suspects were extended by three days.
"Unfortunately, this type of case is not exceptional; it is well-known and banal and from time to time we must rehash itâ€¦. But just because this behavior is the norm, doesn't mean that we can let these crimes occur," Edelson said. "Hopefully if there is anybody in the public or private sector considering selling personal information, they will begin to understand that there is a serious penalty involved, and they will think twice."
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