Three people have been arrested on suspicion of swindling thousands of people by offering to sell airline tickets to a popular Jewish pilgrimage site in Ukraine, and then invalidating the tickets a day before the flights were due to leave, police said Monday.
They are suspected of fraud, forgery, money laundering and other offenses.
Some 2,000 people are believed to have purchased tickets to the city of Uman in the scheme, valued at around $1.3 million.
One of the suspects was arrested at Ben Gurion Airport as he was apparently trying to flee the country on Tuesday, and the other two were arrested Sunday, the Hebrew media Ynet website reported.
All three of the suspects are aged 29. The two arrested at the beginning of the week, the owners of the Europnim agency, are from Beitar Illit and Beit Shemesh — both towns with large ultra-Orthodox populations — and the third is from the central city of Givatayim.
Police launched an investigation after two people complained about tickets they purchased from a company called Europnim at a price of $635 per ticket.
A preliminary probe found that the suspects had ordered 2,000 tickets from an airline that provides flights from Israel to Ukraine. However, an initial payment for the tickets was not made and police believe the suspects used the cash for their own purposes instead, Hebrew media reported.
Last Thursday, Europnim notified its customers that their tickets were invalid. In a message posted to its Facebook page, the company claimed that it had been the victim of a scam and would strive to refund customers their money.
Most of those who purchased the tickets are believed to be ultra-Orthodox. Uman contains the grave of Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav, an 18th-century Hasidic leader, whose burial site is the focal point of celebrations on the Jewish new year, Rosh Hashanah, which begins next Sunday night.
On Sunday, the Jerusalem Magistrate’s court extended the arrest of two of the suspects by three days. The third suspect to be brought to court for a hearing Monday.
Police called on victims of the alleged scam to come forward and lodge complaints.
JTA contributed to this report.