Israeli police initiated an investigation into illegal online gambling advertisements on Monday by raiding the offices of Walla!, one of Israel's largest and most popular Web sites.
The computer crime department of the Israeli Police's National Fraud Unit acted under orders from Attorney General Menahem Mazuz and State Prosecutor Eran Shendar, who have instructed police to crack down on Internet sites that place advertisements for online gambling sites.
Police reportedly seized documents, interrogated witnesses and detained three employees in their raid on Walla! headquarters in Tel Aviv.
A popular portal site among Israelis, Walla! (www.walla.co.il) is a Hebrew-language site that is similar to Yahoo! in many ways. The company is mutually owned by Israeli newspaper Haaretz and Israeli international telecommunications company Bezeq International.
Police say that Walla! has run ads for several gambling Web sites, including BeTheDealer Casino, Stan James and King Solomon Casino.
Walla!, meanshile, maintains that it is not connected to illegal online gambling.
"This police inspection is part of a larger process to step up the fight against illegal gambling sites on the Internet," the company said in a prepared statement. "We have no doubt that since we are the largest and most popular site in Israel, the investigation began with us. Walla! will of course fully cooperate with the investigation."
Senior police sources told the Jerusalem Post that Walla! CEO Ilan Yisraeli will be called in to answer questions within the next few days, but it is extremely unlikely that Amos Shoken, owner of Haaretz, or the owners of Bezeq International will be questioned in the investigation. A police spokesperson told the Post, "We would have to first prove that they were directly involved in the content of their Web sites."
Publicly listed parent company Walla Communications notified the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange of the police investigation but said that it knew few details concerning it. The firm also stated that it does not receive a significant amount of information from online gambling advertisements.
The offices of Hebrew-language sports content Internet site Sportline (www.sportline.co.il) were also raided in a similar fashion by Israeli police on Monday, but only one employee of Sportline was detained.
Israeli business newspaper Globes reported on Oct. 12 that State Prosecutor Shendar and Israel Police Investigations Branch Chief Major General Dudi Cohen had launched a campaign against illegal online gambling. The paper reported that Shendar and Cohen had agreed that their offices would take action against credit companies that provide transaction services for illegal gambling Web sites.
A week after those efforts commenced, the Israeli branch of the University of Derby released a study claiming that the Israel Police and Ministry of Justice would have great difficulty prohibiting unsupervised international money transfers from Israel for illegal online gambling through financial institutions.
Meanwhile, Mifal Hipayis, the operator of Israel's national lottery, recently signed a contract with lotteries solutions provider Intralot that will result in the launch of Internet-based lottery services around the beginning of 2006. Mifal Hipayis' interactive system will offer five games-Chance, 777, Keno, 123 and Lotto-and will be available in Hebrew, English, Russian and Arabic.