French judge: Israel not cooperating with France on scammers

After jurist probing con involving impostors who targeted soccer players expresses concern, Israel Prosecutor’s Office claims cooperation with France, the US is comprehensive

French investigating judge Helene Morton (screenshot France 3)
French investigating judge Helene Morton (screenshot France 3)

A French judge who is investigating one of many large-scale online scams carried out from Israel has told The Times of Israel it is an “open secret” that the Israeli justice system does not cooperate in a satisfactory way with French law enforcement in bringing perpetrators to justice.

Speaking by phone from her office in France, Judge Helene Morton, who is currently investigating a scam involving con artists who impersonate sports agents (French), said she has traced the fraud to Israel but that “the problem we face is international cooperation, which we are working on.”

Asked if international cooperation with Israel was difficult, Morton replied, “It’s not for me to tell you, sir, you know it as well as I do. You ask me the question but it’s an open secret. You ask me the question, but you know the answer.”

Morton is currently investigating a racket that began in August 2017 involving individuals who call up professional soccer teams impersonating the agents of players on those teams. The impostors then tell the person on the phone that the player’s bank account details have changed and request that the salary henceforth be sent to to a different bank account — their own.

Some of the soccer clubs targeted include Dijon Football Cote d’Or (DFCO), the Toulouse Football Club, Angers SCO, Stade Rennais, FC Nantes, Stade Brestois, Olympique Marseille, FCL Lorient and Football Club Sochaux.

Dijon FCO is one of the teams that was allegedly targeted by scammers from Israel (screenshot DFCO Facebook page)

Morton told The Times of Israel she has identified 160 victims so far.

“And there are more; it takes time,” she said.

In April, French police arrested nine individuals in Paris and Marseilles in connection with the hoax, but other members of the criminal gang are believed to be at large and operating from Israel, Morton said. She said the group had previously been involved in Bitcoin and diamond scams.

For more than a decade, thousands of new immigrants to Israel from France have been employed in call centers targeting French speakers abroad with a variety of creative and ever-changing swindles: These include frauds involving advertising, insurance, solar panels, diamonds, forex, binary options, impersonating CEOs, and  well as cryptocurrencies. In March 2016, the Paris prosecutor estimated that Israel-based scams had cost French victims a total of 4.5 billion euros in the previous six years. Since then, the fraudulent activities have continued unabated.

Asked why cooperation with Israel in the battle against the crooks was so difficult and whether there are open channels of communication between the two countries’ law enforcement and judicial hierarchies, Morton replied that there are not. She said she hoped there would be in the future.

“International cooperation exists on paper. But the reality is different, including with some countries in Europe itself. We are working on it, I cannot give you too much information but I am hoping we can unblock these channels. It’s very delicate. I hope that when the time comes, Israel will hand suspects over to us.”

Asked if she was referring to the extradition of suspects to France, Morton replied, “yes,” but added, “you know there is also a problem of accordance of the legislation. What can be considered illegal in France is not necessarily illegal in Israel. Sometimes they have criteria for handing over someone that are not the same as ours.”

Morton added that since Israel is not in Europe, it is not as easy for France to cooperate with Israel as with Belgium or Germany. Despite the fact that Israel has signed a cooperation agreement with Europol, the EU’s law enforcement agency, she said, Israel is not a member of Eurojust, the EU agency responsible for judicial cooperation among member states.

Asked for the reason behind the lack of cooperation, Morton said, “it is too early to say. I am hopeful that we will achieve effective collaboration.”

Morton did sound one optimistic note: “There is some cooperation with the police. French policemen went to Israel several times.”

This is not the first time The Times of Israel was told by foreign law enforcement sources that Israeli authorities can be uncooperative in tackling scammers. The Times of Israel was told by sources in Washington DC in June that neither the Israeli police nor the Israel Securities Authority were cooperating in a satisfactory way on investigations of binary options and forex fraud. The FBI has sent agents to Israel in the battle against binary options and other fraud, and raided Israel-based companies, but Israel has not not prosecuted a single suspect from the outlawed binary options industry, which has fleeced billions of dollars from victims around the world in the past decade.

Asked last week about the concerns raised by the US and French officials, Israel’s Justice Ministry denied that Israel has been uncooperative but did acknowledge that Israel struggles to combat its massive cyber fraud problem.

The state prosecutor’s office sent The Times of Israel the following statement:

“The International Division in the State Prosecutor’s Office, together with the Israel Police, maintains many channels of cooperation with foreign countries. The cooperation with both France and the United States is comprehensive and broad, in particular when it comes to mutual legal assistance between the countries and extradition of criminals.

“We cannot address particular cases, in some of which the activity is covert. However, we will say that in many cases cybercrime poses real challenges for Israeli law enforcement, including on the international plane. Fighting cybercrime is a high priority for Israeli law enforcement. The state prosecutor and the police have established and strengthened professional cybercrime units that also operate on the plane of international cooperation, in collaboration with security bodies that fight this harmful criminal phenomenon.”

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