An Israeli tour company won a tender to send hundreds of police officers to Holocaust memorial sites in Poland, despite being under investigation for its alleged role in a cartel that fixed prices for similar visits by schoolchildren.
The director of Hillel Tours, Pinchas Ginsburg, accompanied the 250-strong police group on the trip last month, and, according to eyewitnesses, was attentive to the needs of senior officers including Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich, the Israeli daily Ynet reported Thursday.
The report said that Ginsburg was previously arrested on suspicion of fraud and money laundering in the case. Furthermore, the police trip to Poland itself took place while the investigation into Ginsburg and several other companies by the National Fraud Unit was still ongoing.
According to Ynet, the tender for organizing the police visit to Poland was published in February, and included stipulations that candidate tour companies should not have been involved in price-fixing in the past, and should not be currently under investigation.
Police said on January 18 that nine officials from six leading tour companies had been questioned after a joint investigation with the Israel Antitrust Authority revealed that they allegedly worked together to price out competition on Education Ministry trips, which flew tens of thousands of Israeli high school students to Poland.
Hillel Tours won the police trip tender alongside three other companies and helped organize the visit, including arranging kosher food for the religiously observant police chief Alsheich.
Ginsburg, who is also on the board of directors for Israel’s flagship carrier El Al, confirmed to Ynet that he had arranged the trip, but said he didn’t see that it was in any way inappropriate.
“The police know about my investigation, which was mostly at the Antitrust Authority,” he said. “We signed on a document that there is an investigation against us, and the police legal advisers approved that.”
The tour operator admitted he had dined with the police chief, but noted he didn’t discuss his investigation with Alsheich.
“I don’t see any problem with that. All in all, I was there to see that things ran smoothly. Even if I did talk to him, I don’t see any problem. All I said to him was ‘have a good trip.'”
Police explained in a statement that the Police Tenders Committee met at the beginning of April to review the four companies awarded the public tender for the Poland trip.
“Before the tenders committee met, a joint police and Antitrust Authority investigation was begun into the leading companies sending delegations to Poland. The tender committee considered the fact that, at that stage, there were only suspicions, and the alternative was to completely cancel the delegations until the end of the investigation.”
“In light of the great importance that the police attach to these delegations,” the committee decided to approve the selection of companies awarded the tender, police said.
The committee also ruled that the matter would be reconsidered if there were any developments in the investigation.
“The bid by Hillel Tours was the lowest, so it was chosen,” police said.
Regarding Ginsburg’s presence during the trip, police pointed out “there is no previous acquaintance between him and the chief. The chief didn’t dine with the man, who wasn’t part of the delegation during his short time in Poland.”
According to a February report from the Haaretz daily, some 28,000 Israeli schoolchildren are flown to Poland every year with parents paying up to NIS 6,000 ($1,500) for a week’s stay in Poland. Flights from Israel to Warsaw are $200-$300.