Israel Police arrested 21 people Tuesday night for allegedly coercing business owners and public officials into advertising in a newspaper linked to a radical faction of a Lithuanian haredi sect.
The arrests across Israel came after a massive six-month undercover operation, targeting suspects who allegedly threatened and extorted managers and senior officials in private and state-run businesses, forcing them to advertise in the “HaPeles” newspaper.
The Jerusalem District Police fraud unit launched the undercover investigation following dozens of complaints by business leaders, who said they were hounded incessantly by phone, e-mail, and fax.
Some 200 police officers, Special Patrol Unit officers, Border Police officers and detectives participated in the investigation.
Two of the suspects, both residents of Jerusalem and well-known in the haredi sector, are suspected of operating the call center from which the alleged extortion was conducted.
The suspects allegedly made daily contact with a call center dubbed “the battle line”, identifying themselves with a password. Once their identities were confirmed, they allegedly received specific instructions on whom to target and with what frequency, as well as contact information and the precise wording to use.
According to police, the suspects then contacted company representatives dozens or even hundreds of times by various methods, causing significant disruptions.
The 21 suspects — residents of Jerusalem, Bnei Brak, Ashdod, Yeruham, and Modi’in Illit – were to be questioned by officers from the national fraud squad, or Lahav 433.