Double-billing donors, organizations is plain unacceptable, travel agents say

Leading travel agents agreed Sunday that double-billing donors and/or organizations for the same trip, as Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is alleged to have done over the years, was unacceptable, and that they would tell this to any client who asked them to do so. "If a client asked me to double-bill two organizations, I would tell the client it is not okay and I wouldn't do it," said Mark Feldman, the chief executive of Ziontours in Jerusalem, whose company works with organizations such as the Jewish Agency, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and Hadassah. "And that goes for even the most prized clients." "Travel bills for employees of private and public companies are often paid by someone else," said Kobi Karni, chairman of the Israel Tourist and Travel Agents Association. "We don't investigate, and we shouldn't investigate, who pays for whom and why - as long it is completely kosher, including the tax aspect. But if someone exploits the agency for the purpose of money laundering, this is upsetting and it shouldn't be done." Emphasizing that he had no knowledge of the relationship between Olmert and his Rishon Tours travel agency, Karni speculated that Rishon Tours probably had not been aware of the full alleged picture, and "probably just followed orders and instructions." But "if the agency and Olmert worked hand in glove in an attempt to take money off organizations, it's an offense," he added. Feldman added that in many cases, politicians ask to switch a business class ticket, paid for by a sponsoring organization, for two economy class tickets so they can bring their spouse. "The organizations understand this. Whenever a client asks me to do so, I tell him we need to get the inviting organization's approval, because, after all, this is their money. Usually they are glad to cooperate," he said. The allegations leveled at Olmert amount to fictitious billing, said another senior figure in the tourism industry. "If they are true, it is daylight robbery."