'Probe Israeli companies doing business with Iran'

Gov't watchdog calls for comprehensive investigation into Israeli business ties with Tehran in wake of Ofer brothers allegations.

311_Micha Lindenstrauss (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
311_Micha Lindenstrauss
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The Ofer Brothers Group is not alone. Quality-government watchdog, Ometz, called both Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein and State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss on Sunday to initiate comprehensive investigations into all Israeli-based companies doing business with Iran – and into the government authorities under whose watch such alleged transactions took place.
In a letter to Weinstein, the group called for investigations, up to and including the ministerial levels to find out who is responsible, and for what.
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The call came days after the US State Department announced it would place sanctions on the Ofer Brothers Group for its role in the September 2010 sale of a tanker to an banned Iranian company.
According to a fact sheet released by the State Department, the Ofer Brothers Group, together with Singaporebased Tanker Pacific, “failed to exercise due diligence, and did not heed publicly available and easily obtainable information that would have indicated that they were dealing with IRISL [Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines].”
The Ofer Brother’s Group denied having ever knowingly done business with an Iranian company.
On Thursday Ometz sent a letter to Weinstein asking him to look into the the Ofer Brothers Group’s business dealings with Iran – but after reports surfaced over the weekend of other Israel-based companies doing business with Iran, Ometz asked him to expand the investigation by creating an interdisciplinary task force to investigate both the financial and governmental bodies involved in the allegedly illicit trade.
Among the reports that were raised by Israeli-media outlets, was a Haaretz story reporting on 13 dockings by the Ofer Brothers Group-owned ships in Iranian ports over the last decade. Yedioth Aharonot interviewed Shai Baaton, an accountant who heads a group called the Jewish Boycott, who gave a list of more than 200 international companies that operate in Israel, who also have trade relations with Iran.
“It is inconceivable that such widescale trade, by so many bodies – with Israel’s worst enemy – could take place without the knowledge of the state entities that deal in such things – be it the Prime Ministers Office, the Finance Ministry or the Defense Ministry and all its intelligence services. We are very concerned that different bodies, or those responsible for them, preferred to look the other way and ignore the phenomena, out of considerations that we prefer not to mention for the time being,” read the letter.
Ometz said that due to the centrality of the Ofer Brothers Group to Israel’s economy, any injury to the company might lead to a market-wide ripple effect.
“It appears that the Ofer Brothers are just the tip of the iceberg,” said Natan Lahav from Ometz. “If that is the case, and there are dozens of companies trading with Iran, somebody knew about it and kept silent. Right now the government ministries are passing the buck from one to another. Nobody is taking responsibility. We expect the ministers who are quick to take the glory for successes to take responsibility for mistakes.”
Lahav also raised concerns over the way government reactions would be construed abroad.
“If the world sees that Israel is taking these claims seriously, and properly investigating any wrongdoings, they will continue to support the boycott, which Israel has been leading. But if things drag out and the state attempts to cover things up, other countries will loose their desire to enforce the boycott,” Lahav added.
So far both the Defense Ministry and the Finance Ministry have stated that they are not responsible for supervising the prohibition on trade with enemy states, a policy that rests on a mandatory act from 1939.
Ometz’s letter to Lindenstrauss also criticized the coalition MKs and cabinet ministers for failing to speak out over the allegations.
“The avoidance of the severe issue by influential coalition members and cabinet members raises grievous concerns of financial/political ties – a cloud that only grows gloomier over the years,” read the letter.
Finance Committee Chairman, Carmel Shama HaCohen, has called for a special committee hearing into the matter to be held on Tuesday.
“A situation whereby a leading Israeli company – or a company linked to it – is trading with Iran at a level that leads the US State Department to sanction it, is a dangerous and a strategic black hole in the Israeli effort to halt the Iranian nuclear project,” said Shama HaCohen.
Meanwhile, Iranian officials have denied any business ties with Israel.
Iran has no business dealings with “Zionist” companies, Chairman of Iran’s Chamber of Commerce, Industries and Mines Mohammad Nahavandian said on Friday, according to media reports.
“Based on the laws of the country, any kind of trade or economic transaction with the Zionist regime and its affiliated firms is against the law,” Nahavandian was quoted as saying.
“The news regarding the activities of Zionist firms in regard to Iran is a new game which has surfaced in reaction to other nations welcoming establishing economic ties with Iran,” Nahavandian added. “Thus they [Western powers] are naming some Zionist firms as engaged in doing business with Iran.”