Behind the paywall: Israel's corporate registry
In August this year the Tel Aviv district court indicted the former chairman of the Dawn of the Millenium Corporation for his alleged involvement in a USD $11 million embezzlement scheme. Over the course of 2 years Freddy Robinson helped transfer funds to Milomar, another corporation he owned, which was suffering financially. Funds were reportedly reinstated before quarterly reports were filed to prevent this showing up on the reports themselves.
As an investigator, how could we verify this information for ourselves? Israel has a reputation as a relatively business-friendly jurisdiction with significant investment in e-government, so we set out to show you how.
In Israel, information on private companies is filed with the Israeli Corporations Authority(ICA), but the registry is quite difficult to navigate as a non-Hebrew speaker. Key data on company shareholders and directors, for example, are hidden behind the paywall in scanned documents (needless to say, they are not machine readable, and therefore not accessible for automated translation). In addition, companies are also not required by law to disclose director and shareholder information and so when this information is available it has been volunteered by the company.
This post provides a step by step guide to help find important information.
Getting basic information
The Israeli Corporations Authority lists all publicly available documents filed by companies. Confusingly, the ICA offers two pages that allow access to corporate filings. The first lets you search for basic company data by company name or registration number. Here the company name can be entered in English or Hebrew. If you are using Chrome, automatic translation will save time in deciphering the contents of the table.
Almost uniquely among corporate registries, the registry also states whether the company is involved in any legal proceedings.
Further basic data is available on click through for free. This includes registered address, company type, and the date of filing of the company’s last periodic report.
Paying for detailed company information
The second page allows users to buy documents which cost 65 shekels each. It’s important to follow the steps below very carefully to avoid being baffled by the site’s confusing layout and poor user experience - especially if you do not read Hebrew.
This page requires name searches to be in Hebrew (you can use English company names to find the Hebrew name or a registration number). Some companies may not have documents listed, however. When searching for Milomar, for example, an error message pops up which says that no records were available.
Note that when selecting documents, using Chrome’s automatic translation breaks the ability to select company filings to view on this page, and will bring up an error message that the ‘input string is in the incorrect format.’
Once the company is selected, the grey button will take you to the first part of the payment page where you have to enter in some personal details (the screenshot below has been automatically translated):
Follow through to the final payment page:
A problem that you may encounter is actually paying for the document. The ICA automatically assumes the user is an Israeli citizen and therefore has an ID number. Ticking the left hand circle on the form below allows you to pay with an international bank card. Be aware that using Google Translate to translate the page flips around the options and orders them incorrectly:
Once you buy a document you receive a confirmation email which explains that you will be sent a link to download the requested document. The second email arrived 20 minutes later with a hefty set of documents available to download.
Understanding the documents
As previously mentioned, these documents are scanned documents for annual returns with some sections filled in by hand, and are therefore not machine readable. We consulted a Hebrew speaker and found detailed company information was in fact available, including names of senior executives and retired directors.
Despite Israel’s reputation as a technological hub, its corporate registry is surprisingly difficult to navigate. Fraud cases such as the Dawn of the Millenium scandal are therefore inevitably easier to hide. Nonetheless, detailed information is in fact available if you know how to access it. Though language is a slight barrier behind the paywall, documents available have a regular layout which investigators with minimal knowledge of Hebrew can follow easily.
Update (27.03.2015): Documents available through the ICA now cost 64 shekels, rather than 65 shekels as stated in the article.
Arachnys would like to thank our advisory board member Adam Cohen and Erez Mathan of Gocardless for their invaluable input on this blog.
Topics: / Behind the paywall