A-G likely to seek probe into Hazan’s financial irregularities

Decision expected in wake of state comptroller’s report claiming freshman Likud MK lied about primary spending

Marissa Newman is The Times of Israel political correspondent.

MK Oren Hazan at a Finance Committee meeting  on November 18, 2015. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
MK Oren Hazan at a Finance Committee meeting on November 18, 2015. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein is expected to instruct the Israel Police to open a criminal investigation against MK Oren Hazan, following a report Wednesday by State Comptroller Yosef Shapira in which he accuses the freshman Likud lawmaker of failing to report his spending on the primaries, and lying in an affidavit.

Hazan’s alleged criminal offense could carry up to three years in prison.

In the report on the political parties’ primaries spending published Wednesday, Shapira said he fined Education Minister Naftali Bennett (Jewish Home) NIS 30,000 ($7,700), his fellow party member Avi Wortzman NIS 12,000 ($3,100), former Likud MK Moshe Feiglin NIS 10,000 ($2,571) and Labor’s Erel Margalit NIS 7,500 ($1,900) for exceeding the amount of permitted campaign funding.

Hazan, who has made headlines for a series of scandals since entering the Knesset earlier this year, submitted an affidavit to the state comptroller stating that he had spent no money on his campaign, other than the NIS 7,000 ($1,800) in candidacy submission fees he said he had paid out of his own pocket. The report, however, assessed that he had in fact spent over NIS 25,000 ($6,500) on his campaign.

“It was found that the candidate did have expenses related to managing his campaign that were not reported to the state comptroller,” the report said. “In the absence of the reported [funds], it was impossible to evaluate the candidate’s bank accounts and the overall income and expenses and their origin, and the legality of donations that he received that funded his campaign expenses.”

State Comptroller Yosef Shapira (R) hands the State Comptroller's report to chairman of the Israeli parliament Yuli Edelstein on October 28, 2015. (Isaac Harari/ Flash90)
State Comptroller Yosef Shapira (R) hands the State Comptroller’s report to Knesest speaker Yuli Edelstein on October 28, 2015. (Isaac Harari/ Flash90)

According to Shapira, Hazan then claimed that he was unaware of the obligation to report the expenses that were covered by donors. “That claim was not accepted,” it said.

The state comptroller emphasized that lying on an affidavit could carry three years’ prison time, and fined Hazan NIS 5,000 ($1,200).

“Filing an affidavit that is untrue, as the candidate did, is a criminal offense,” he wrote.

The primaries spending limits for each political party are set by the government based on the number of eligible party voters.

The report was submitted to the attorney general’s office to determine whether legal action should be pursued. Shortly before the state comptroller report was released, the Knesset’s Ethics Committee announced that it had suspended Hazan from the panel for a month due to a glut of complaints about him.

The committee said it made the decision to suspend Hazan following several complaints against him on different matters. The complaint following an alleged insult relating to Yesh Atid MK Karin Elharar’s disability was only one of the reasons for the decisions, Hebrew-language website NRG reported. Elharar uses a wheelchair.

With regard to Bennett, the state comptroller said the Jewish Home party leader had exceeded the maximum amount of both permitted donations and expenses. Bennett received NIS 1,244,512 ($320,000) in donations, mostly from abroad, and spent 1,206,949 ($310,000).

The state comptroller dismissed Bennett’s defense that he needed the hefty funds to stand for the party leadership, noting that there was no real contender running against him. He added that in advertising for the primaries, Bennett had pushed the Jewish Home party as a whole in the promotions, an issue he said compromised the rules of the primaries. Shapira also said that Bennett did not handle his bank accounts in accordance with the comptroller’s office’s instructions and fined him NIS 30,000 ($7,700).

Education Minister Naftali Bennett speaks at the Jerusalem Post Diplomatic Conference, held at Waldorf Astoria hotel in Jerusalem. November 18, 2015. (Miriam Alster /Flash90)
Education Minister Naftali Bennett speaks at the Jerusalem Post Diplomatic Conference, held at Waldorf Astoria hotel in Jerusalem. November 18, 2015. (Miriam Alster /Flash90)

Avi Wortzman — who was set to take the seat of Yinon Magal, who resigned this week over sexual harassment allegations — was ordered to pay NIS 12,000 ($3,000) for exceeding the maximum expenses by NIS 200,000 ($51,000) and failing to provide some paperwork.

Wortzman said Wednesday he would not be returning to the Knesset, the Israel National News website reported.

“Over the past few days I deliberated greatly over the issue of returning to the role of MK. I decided to stay with the residents of Aleh Negev Nahalat Eran, the weakest members of society,” Wortzman said. He currently serves as secretary general of a village for the rehabilitation of disabled children in the south.

“I will continue on my public mission wherever I am. I thank my friend and head of the party Naftali Bennett who turned to me, understood my decision and has backed me every step the way,” he added.

Ex-Likud MK Moshe Feiglin, who quit the party after he finished 36th on the Likud list in the last primaries, was fined NIS 10,000 ($2,500) for taking too many donations, and failing to handle his accounts correctly.

Gender Equality Minister Gila Gamliel (Likud), the Likud’s Jacky Levy, and the Jewish Home’s Nissan Smolianski — who formerly headed the Knesset’s Finance Committee — were also fined for irregularities in their spending.

Culture Minister Miri Regev (Likud) was let off with a warning, and Shapira accepted explanations by Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein regarding inconsistencies in his own spending report. Labor MKs Erel Margalit and Ayelet Nahmias-Verbin were fined NIS 7,500 ($1,900) and NIS 2,000 ($500), respectively, for exceeding the spending limit, and in Margalit’s case, also failing to report all of his expenses.

The report noted that during the Likud primaries, some of the regional polling stations were situated near offices of Israel Aircraft Industries, with cars belonging the IAI being used to transport workers to vote, and IAI employees being given time off work to vote in the primaries, in violation of the law. The report indicated that this was part of a campaign to bolster Welfare Minister Haim Katz, who at that time was head of the Israel Aircraft Industries’ workers union.

The use of public company cars for political purposes is illegal during the general election — but not for primaries, and Shapira urged lawmakers to extend the law to primaries. The IAI, meanwhile, said the cars are often given to workers for personal use and should not be viewed as a company decision to back a certain Likud candidate.

The state comptroller report only evaluated the political parties that have primaries, namely Likud, Labor, Jewish Home, and Meretz.

In response to the report, MK Karin Elharar (Yesh Atid), who heads the Knesset’s State Control Committee, urged the attorney general to open a criminal investigation.

“These harsh findings point to political corruption that may be criminal,” she said. “This report symbolizes more than anything the disintegration of the values of honesty, transparency, and good governance in the parties that hold primaries.”

Elharar and Hazan made headlines last week after the Likud MK mocked the Yesh Atid lawmaker’s disability, prompting a harsh rebuke from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Hazan, who entered politics ahead of the March elections, has been at the center of a number of scandals earlier this year after television exposés accused him of sexual assault, soliciting prostitutes and using crystal meth when he managed a European casino. Last month he filed a libel lawsuit against a Channel 2 reporter for a “tsunami of false accusations” against him.

The rookie lawmaker’s father, Yehiel Hazan, lost his Knesset seat after he was caught casting a double-vote in the plenum, and then attempting to remove a voting computer from a Knesset storage room to hide evidence of the act.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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