WikiLeaks: Israeli corruption plagued US firms at Gaza crossing

AFP, Thursday 6 Jan 2011

US firms complained in 2006 of corruption by Israeli officials at the Karni crossing into Gaza, then the Palestinian territory's main commercial transit point, a leaked US diplomatic cable showed Thursday.

According to a cable from the US embassy in Tel Aviv and consulate in Jerusalem, US firms complained to embassy officials of a "lack of a clear and predictable truck registration system" which enabled "widespread corruption at Karni crossing."

The companies included Coca Cola, Procter and Gamble, Caterpillar, Philip Morris, Westinghouse, Hewlett Packard, Motorola, Aramex and Dell.

"The deeply problematic procedures and allegations of endemic corruption at Karni terminal constitute a major non-tariff barrier to trade," the cable, posted online by Norwegian daily of reference Aftenposten, read.

The cable said Coca Cola distributor Joerg Hartmann informed embassy officials that trucks were stalled at the crossing if firms did not pay bribes, in a scheme largely run by a high-level Israeli official with the help of others, including two soldiers.

"Hartmann also alleged that he has been asked to pay as much as 13,000 to 15,000 shekels (2,889 to 3,333 dollars) per truckload, which includes a flat fee plus an additional two shekels per case charge, which is not recorded on the invoice," the cable said.

"Hartmann said that for that price, your truck is promised the first place in line or a spot near the head of the so-called 'Israeli line' which does move," it added.

Some of the companies who had complained of corruption at the crossing refused to pay the bribes, the cable said.

At the end of May 2006, "34 shipments of American goods, amounting to nearly 1.9 million dollars (had) been waiting three to four months to cross into Gaza," it added.

Israel shut the Karni crossing when the radical Hamas movement took control of Gaza in June 2007. Only a minimum of goods are now let through, using a conveyor belt.

Aftenposten said last month it had obtained all the diplomatic documents leaked to WikiLeaks and that it would publish stories based on them independently of the whistleblowing website's own releases.

WikiLeaks has so far only made public around 2,000 of the some 250,000 cables in its possession, in cooperation with publications El Pais, The Guardian, The New York Times, Le Monde and Der Spiegel.

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