Eighty three people, including four employees of the Population and Immigration Authority and residents of eastern Jerusalem, were recently arrested on suspicion of being involved in a large-scale bribery affair at the center of which was an illicit trade of appointments at the busy Population Authority branch in Wadi al-Joz in eastern Jerusalem, worth hundreds of thousands of shekels.
Six of the detainees are suspected of brokering the trade and the remaining 73 are suspected of paying hundreds of shekels each time they’d been advanced in queues. They are charged with multiple bribery offenses including breach of trust and money laundering. The arrest of the four employees was extended until Wednesday, and the rest have been released under restrictive conditions.
The arrests were carried out at the end of an undercover investigation that lasted four months and involved an undercover agent.
The investigation revealed a method the brokers used to allegedly link the suspected Population Authority employees with dozens of eastern Jerusalem residents who required the ministry’s services, such as the issuance of identity cards or travel permits, and could make appointments with no waiting period in exchange for a monetary bribe.
During the wave of arrests, the police raided the homes of 23 key suspects, including the four employees and six real estate agents, and confiscated, among other things, luxury cars and tens of thousands of shekels in cash.
Approximately 350,000 residents of eastern Jerusalem are assigned to the Wadi al-Joz branch, which results in appointments being made months in advance.
According to the police, in order to exhaust the residents’ patience and force them to resort to bribes, the brokers used a smartphone application My Visit—which was developed in order to facilitate services at the branch, through which they would purchase appointments and subsequently sell them.
One of the brokers, allegedly had personally scheduled no less than 2,700 appointments months ahead.
The police issued an official response explaining the mechanism behind the scheme.
"According to the suspicions, the suspects exploited the shortage of available appointments and long waiting periods at the branch in order to collect bribes. In some instances, services to the applicants had been provided without them physically visiting the branch or providing the required documents," the statement concluded.
The Population and Immigration Authority also issued a response, refusing to elaborate further on the alleged offenses.
"The matter is under police investigation—initiated by us, and therefore we will not be able to respond," read the statement.