Ugly shakedown

Even as they fight the criminal extortionists, the police shouldn't have to contend with workers at the ITA playing their own extortion game.

aharonovitch (photo credit: AP)
(photo credit: AP)
The downfall of Chicago gangland boss Al Capone on tax evasion charges is legend. Ever since, lawmen and prosecution strategists throughout the Western world have agreed that what worked in 1931 still constitutes the best line of attack against underworld kingpins. In America, the RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations) Act has been successfully enforced for nearly four decades, using tax rules to target the ill-gotten gains of mafia-related and other crimes. But here, Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch accused the Israel Tax Authority last week of impeding law enforcement's economic warfare campaign against organized crime. He appeared before the Knesset Control Committee, which deliberated State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss's recent scathing criticism of the failure to undercut underworld financial interests. Arguing that tax investigators "plainly fail to cooperate" with police, Aharonovitch cited their work-to-rules to back "demands for special pay increments" for assisting the police force. Deputy ITA Director-General Avi Arditi said the same. Fighting financial crime is assigned to 50 of the ITA's 200 investigators. Most of the 50, Arditi complained, "constitute a geriatric problem." They're over 50 years old. All 50 investigators want "danger-pay - not a lot of money, only NIS 4 million annually," he added. In fact, at the end of his term, premier Ehud Olmert granted the ITA NIS 30 million for fighting organized crime, and on his very last day in office Olmert added another NIS 10 million. But nothing seems to make a dent with the ITA. The police are likewise experiencing money problems. Nevertheless, Aharonovitch, a former high-ranking cop, says he'll double the number of teams assigned to combat organized crime (from six to 12) by diverting funds from maintenance and the traffic enforcement. Should the holdup in coordination not be resolved soon, the ITA director-general promised the Knesset committee, he would personally offer police direct access to information without bureaucratic go-betweens. That still leaves us with questions: • Why wasn't information already in the possession of the tax authorities shared with the police (even if the procurement of new data is hampered)? • Why the tolerance for sanctions by employees who refuse to perform the basic tasks for which they were hired? • How was Olmert's NIS 40 million spent? • Why was a crucial anti-crime offensive sabotaged for so long, without a squawk, until the comptroller's exposé? This is no less than scandalous because organized crime isn't only an eternal parasite sucking away at society, it also claims the lives of innocents. Mob infighting costs innocent lives. Each underworld hit indiscriminately endangers passersby. The most glaring incident was last summer's shooting of Marguerita Lautin, who "got in the way" at Bat Yam Beach. Lindenstrauss excoriated the shortcircuit in police-ITA relations and noted that the police "never completed the mapping of underworld property." Only some NIS 62 million worth of holdings were pinpointed; organizational breakdowns then cut the effort short. Liens were imposed on only a minuscule fraction of the property because of legal and technical encumbrances. Almost no liens were put on NIS 24 million worth of assets provisionally seized. So far, according to Lindenstrauss (and corroborated by police and ITA admissions), the bulging pockets of crime families have hardly been touched. THE comptroller's latest report acknowledges that the police have managed to put many leading underworld hoodlums behind bars - at least temporarily. It's estimated that, in all, there are 17 underworld organizations in Israel, with about 19 of their top chieftains now jailed. The problem is that their "legitimate" money-making ventures - purchased by ill-gotten gains - continue to rake in profits while the authorities seem stymied in their efforts due to bureaucratic foot-dragging at the ITA. Law enforcement has to prove that the seemingly legitimate enterprises in question, aren't. But this cannot be achieved if the police officers and the taxmen won't talk to each other. That petty inter-departmental squabbles continue to foil a vital concerted governmental campaign is a travesty. The pernicious contagion of organized crime causes our society to decay. These felons aren't just minor delinquents engaged in petty misdemeanors. Rooting them out can't be put on hold. Even as they fight the criminal extortionists, the police shouldn't have to contend with workers at the ITA playing their own extortion game.