Employee used position, access to ministry computers to produce fake permits.

Police arrested an employee at the Agriculture Ministry on Thursday on suspicion of selling fake permits to purchase a controlled chemical pesticide. The suspect, Uri Haim, allegedly sold permits to farmers that allowed them to buy 67 tons of a substance called Methyl Bromide, which is closely regulated because of its harmful effects on the environment, over the last two years.

Methyl bromide is an odorless, colorless gas that is a highly efficient soil fumigant used to control pests across a wide range of agricultural sectors. In the late 1980s it was discovered that Methyl Bromide depletes the stratospheric ozone layer and, ever since, governments have been taking efforts to phase out its use.

Employee used position and access to ministry computers to produce fake permits

In 1992 Israel ratified the Montreal Protocol on Substances That Deplete the Ozone Layer and began initiating a plan to gradually reduce the use of the pesticide. According to the Agriculture Ministry, use of the substance is set to be entirely banned by the end of 2011.

Until then, the chemical is only sold to farmers who hold a valid permit from the ministry.

The government’s strict control of the substance has created an active black market, where, according to police suspicions, the chemical is sold for three times its normal cost.

“Following a complaint from the Agriculture Ministry, senior St.-Sgt. Uri Dershen took on the investigation. We believe that Haim, a longtime employee of the Agriculture Ministry, used his position and access to ministry computers and databases to produce fake permits and, with the help of a middleman, sell them to farmers, for personal gain,” said Ch.-Insp. Tal Ben- Even from the Sharon Region’s fraud unit.

“We have evidence that the suspect also forged the signatures of his colleagues to authorize the permits.”

Farmers complained of receiving ‘fake permits’

Ben-Even stressed that Methyl Bromide is considered a dangerous substance because it can also potentially be used for making explosives.

“We found out about the alleged forgeries after hearing complaints from farmers and receiving copies of the fake permits,” said Agriculture Ministry spokeswoman Dafna Yurista.

“We then approached the police with our suspicions and filed a formal complaint.”

Yurista said that the ministry was cooperating with the police in its investigation and that additional employees were being questioned about their possible involvement. She also said that the ministry’s management expressed full trust in the rest of the ministry’s employees.

Substance may be used locally, but has global effects

As part of it’s effort to reduce the use of Methyl Bromide, the Agriculture Ministry sets quotas on the amounts of the chemical that are allowed to be sold.

According to ministry figures the national quota for 2009 was 540 tons and for 2010 it is 290 tons. Dr. Arye Vanger, who works for the Israel Union for Environmental Defense (Adam Teva V’Din), said that because of the effectiveness of the chemical, there is high demand for it and that people were willing to go to great lengths to get it. Vanger said that it was impossible to determine precisely what damage the extra 67 tons of material would cause to the ozone layer, but said that Methyl Bromide worked as a catalyst, meaning even a relatively small amount would have a spreading effect on the environment.

Vanger explained that though the substance was used locally, its effects would be felt globally.

He said that once the chemical mixes with the air, it enters the atmosphere and settles above the poles.

“The nations of the world realized that this is a harmful substance and 160 countries, including Israel, signed a protocol to eventually ban its use.

Selling fake permits to purchase it illegally means both transgressing Israeli law and, ultimately, harming all of humanity,” said Vanger.