Police arrest dozens in train corruption scandal

Police arrest dozens in train corruption scandal

For years, rail employees allegedly conspired with outside contractors to defraud Israel Railways company of millions

An Israel Railways train (illustrative photo: Moshe Shai/Flash90)
An Israel Railways train (illustrative photo: Moshe Shai/Flash90)

Police arrested dozens of suspects Tuesday in connection with an Israel Railways corruption scandal uncovered last year.

Among those arrested were seven rail employees, including a department head, as well as employees from a placement company contracted by the state.

The suspects will face charges ranging from paying and receiving bribes to embezzlement, fraud, tax violations and money laundering, stemming from the discovery, during an internal Israel Railways probe, that employees from the sanitation division had conspired with outside contractors to defraud the company of tens of millions of shekels.

Railway employees allegedly issued invoices to outside contractors for custodial work that had been done inadequately, if at all, and in some cases doubled the amount that was supposed to be paid.

Addressing the arrests, Israel Railways CEO Boaz Tzafrir stressed that the scandal was exposed by the company’s internal audit and that “Israel Railways is making every effort to maintain integrity and good governance and denounces all misconduct that violates the law.”

He added that the case is now a police matter, and the company had transferred all of the information from its probe to police investigators.

However, some railway workers put the onus for the scandal on the company for its practice of firing employees in favor of using outside contractors.

“This is not new to us,” one veteran employee told the Hebrew news site Ynet. “The minute they decided to use outside contractors and fire veteran employees who were dedicated to public service, they opened the door to corruption.”

While there were some reports of disruptions to train service earlier in the day, rail employees dismissed implications that the disruptions were related to the arrests.

“We have nothing to do with these people,” the workers were quoted as saying. “We condemn corruption and will not do anything that could be interpreted as solidarity with them.”

The state-run company and its workers union have been regularly entangled over the years in disputes over contracts and decisions to privatize parts of the company, which have led to numerous strikes and even a decision by the Transportation Ministry to split the company into three smaller companies in 2012.

During that year, tensions between the two ramped up in February following a wildcat strike by the union and a deal signed by the rail company to outsource maintenance work to Canadian company Bombardier.

And in 2013, dozens of train drivers called in sick for several days following a court order to end their general strike.

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