Police detectives in Israel are calling it the “Red Hot Affair.” It’s actually a pun. But not too many people are laughing. On March 15, the head of that country’s Fire Brigades Union in the Jezreel Valley (in the northern part of the country) turned himself into police after five other suspects, among them various family members, were arrested for running an elaborate embezzlement ring. The ringleader, union chairman Avi Zagori, also a member of the Migdal Ha’emek Municipal Council, embezzled cash and checks worth millions of shekels (1 shekel = about US$0.25). The suspects face fraud, forgery, embezzlement, money-laundering and other charges. Authorities also detained another four persons for questioning.
Police investigators uncovered what they say is “systematic theft of funds that has lasted for years.” The union typically would receive checks; cash them at a foreign exchange outlet; and transfer the funds to Zagori’s account. Authorities say Zagori, 48, also routed hundreds of thousands of shekels through his daughter’s bank account while she served in the Israeli Defense Forces and gave his unqualified girlfriend a management position in the union after forging her resume. Corruption has been a recurring problem in Israel’s labor unions. The incoming coalition government of Benjamin Netanyahu hopefully will take steps to combat it. (Jerusalem Post, 3/16/09).