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Israelis at crossing site were accused of graft

Associated Press / January 7, 2011

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JERUSALEM — A key Israeli cargo crossing for goods entering the Gaza Strip was rife with corruption, forcing American businesses to pay hefty bribes to Israelis to get their products across the border, according to a US diplomatic cable released yesterday by WikiLeaks.

The June 14, 2006, cable, written by senior US diplomats in Israel, said distributors for major American companies that included Coca-Cola Co., Caterpillar Inc., and Motorola Inc. complained of widespread corruption at the border crossing. It was unclear whether the practice still continues.

Israeli officials denied any wrongdoing at the Karni crossing, once a major shipping point for cargo entering Gaza. Its operations were scaled back after Hamas militants seized control of Gaza in June 2007.

The WikiLeaks document quoted a local Coca-Cola distributor as saying he was asked to pay more than $3,000 for each truckload of merchandise going through Karni. The executive claimed an unidentified high-level official at the crossing headed the corruption ring, but that it filtered further down.

“Corruption extends to Karni management and involves logistics companies working as middlemen for military and civilian officials at the terminal,’’ the document says, pointing out that Palestinian partners on the other side participated in the shakedown operation.

The cable says distributors from other companies, including Procter & Gamble Co., Caterpillar, Philip Morris, Westinghouse, Hewlett-Packard Co., Motorola, and Aramex, complained of corruption at the crossing.

The document implied that at least two of the companies, Coca-Cola and Westinghouse, paid the bribes, while a Caterpillar representative said it refused to pay.

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