Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

25 Teves 5766 - January 25, 2006 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Shema Yisrael Torah Network











Court Sentences Lulav Importers to 3 Months Community Service and NIS 30,000

by Betzalel Kahn

Jerusalem District Court Judge Jonathan Adiel sentenced lulav importers Avraham Balili and Jean Manshapoor to three months of community service and a fine of NIS 30,000 ($6,500) each after being convicted of taking part in a lulav cartel seven years ago, a scandal first exposed in Yated Ne'eman.

The importers faced charges of forming a cartel before Succos 5759 (1999) by coordinating lulav marketing and sales. The main charge against them was price fixing.

The court determined that the cartel's lulav prices were significantly higher than in the previous year and higher than the price at the beginning of the lulav season. In its ruling the court noted that the increase in lulav prices was not coincidental, but stemmed from a deliberate, calculated decision by the cartel members.

The affair began when MK Rabbi Avrohom Ravitz filed a complaint with the Antitrust Authority regarding the cartel among El-Arish lulav importers, which had led to a sharp price increase in 5759. The Authority's investigations department found that the importers had fixed prices by storing all of the lulovim arriving from El-Arish in a single warehouse and then controlling distribution to dealers. Following the investigation, the Antitrust Authority's legal department decided to file an indictment. Three months ago the court found the defendants guilty of forming a binding arrangement.

The Judge said that the horizontal nature of the price- fixing cartel justified harsh punishment. On the other hand, the judge listed several extenuating circumstances such as legal advice the defendants had received that misled them to think the partnership agreement was permissible (according to Globes, the Attorney General had approved the partnership agreement), the small size of the market, the short time period and the defendants' financial difficulties.

"As other considerations warrant a lenient ruling I will take into account the defendants' advanced age and difficult financial situation," writes the judge, noting that the State demanded Balili receive a harsher sentence since he played a more dominant role in carrying out the violation, but, "I was not convinced that a distinction should be made between the defendants in sentencing," writes Judge Adiel. He also took into account the fact that the legal proceedings against the other defendants have been delayed or the charges dropped.

After laying forth the extenuating circumstances the court sentenced the two defendants to three months of community service, a fine of NIS 30,000 each and a suspended prison sentence of 12 months if they violate antitrust laws within a period of three years from the day of sentencing.

The Antitrust Authority was pleased with the sentence, saying, "The ruling sets a minimal punishment for cartel violations since the size of the lulav market is limited and the cartel was for a limited time based on the fact the market lasts only a few days. Therefore clearly the court is moving toward stricter minimal penalties for cartels."

Nevertheless lulav dealers claim the punishment was a just a tap on the wrist since these penalties will not deter importers from forming another cartel.

This year dealers faced the worst lulav shortage in years. Shortly before Succos, Balili was again accused of creating a shortage of lulovim in an attempt to control the market. An investigative report published in Yated Ne'eman uncovered the techniques he used to create an artificially small supply to jack up prices. Only through the efforts of a number of chareidi dealers and the help of chareidi MKs were tens of thousands of lulovim brought into the country at the last moment through alternative routes, bringing down prices. In the US, however, there was a serious shortage of lulovim this year.


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