Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein blocked his deputy MK Oren Hazan from presiding over any Knesset meetings “until further notice” on Tuesday, in light of claims made in a news report that Hazan hired prostitutes for friends and clients and used hard drugs while managing a casino in Bulgaria.
In a Monday evening report titled “Prostitutes, drugs and the deputy speaker of the Knesset,” reporter Amit Segal presented recordings of former associates of Hazan who alleged that the freshman Likud Knesset member would hire prostitutes for his guests, and that he bought and smoked crystal meth.
Under the Knesset’s laws, Edelstein cannot dismiss Hazan from his position. Removing a sitting member from the Knesset cannot be easily done and would likely require the MK to voluntarily waive his parliamentary immunity.
Hazan, 33, denied the charges Tuesday and told Edelstein that he had no plans to leave his position as deputy Knesset speaker, as a maelstrom of condemnation turned the scandal into a full-blown farce.
The freshman MK tweeted earlier that he was meant to officiate over his first plenum session of the Knesset Tuesday night but had told Edelstein that he was “leaving the Knesset early today to meet with my lawyers.”
“No prostitution, no pimping, no drugs,” he told Israel Radio earlier. “It’s funny — there are Knesset members who testify to having used drugs. They’re the junkies. I’m opposed to legalization.”
Segal reaffirmed the veracity of his report Tuesday, telling Army Radio, “We have two testimonies from Israelis about the crystal meth use, including his buying it from a dealer.”
The exposé quoted two Israeli tourists and a casino employee who confirmed that Hazan would provide prostitutes for his guests in the Burgas casino, where he held a stake. Both prostitution and hard-drug use are illegal in Bulgaria.
On Monday night, Hazan’s attorney Avraham Keren sent a letter to Channel 2 and Segal, accusing them of libel and demanding that they retract the story and apologize.
“Your intention was to injure — with no other practical reason — the standing of my client and his good name,” the letter read.
Keren also took the network to task for its use of anonymous sources in the article. “Of course the vast majority of the segment was done by distorting voices in a way that made it impossible to identify who is talking and who they are talking about,” he wrote.
“I don’t know them — not their faces, not their names,” Hazan said Tuesday.
Earlier, he denied the claims in a Facebook post, writing, “This time I won’t be quiet about the loathsome and baseless lies.”
Some commenters on his post attached photographs of Hazan drinking alcohol, dancing with scantily clad women and giving the middle finger to the camera. Others posted photographs of Bob Odenkirk, who played the attorney of a crystal meth dealer on the popular TV show “Breaking Bad,” and of Benicio del Toro, who played the drug-addled attorney of Hunter S. Thompson in the film “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.”
הפעם אני לא עובר בשתיקה על דברי שקר מתועבים וחסרי בסיס. הנחיתי את עורך הדין שלי לשלוח כבר הערב מכתב התראה לפני תביעה נג…
עובד ישראלי בקזינו הוסיף: "הגענו לאיזה מישהו ברחוב. אנחנו לא ידענו מה זה קריסטל מת'. איכשהו התגלגל שיביא משהו, הביא לנו את הכחול הזה".אורן חזן – Oren Hazan
The Channel 2 report quoted Hazan’s chauffeur in Bulgaria to the effect that Hazan would send him to the “Red Rose” escort service to pick up prostitutes a few times a week for his friends. Hazan would cover the cost of the prostitutes, at some €50 ($56) an hour, the driver said.
“Oren was the big boss,” Sonya, the manager of “Red Rose,” told the TV channel. “He had a lot of friends. It was good. His driver would come here, talk to me, I would tell him the price and he would take [the women]. First he would pay, and then they would leave together.”
She appeared incredulous when the interviewer informed her that her former boss had gone into politics in Israel.
Hazan is the son of disgraced Likud MK Yehiel Hazan, who was convicted of forgery, fraud and breach of trust after double-voting in the Knesset in 2003 and attempting to cover up the evidence.
He insisted that the report about his alleged escapades in Bulgaria was the latest incident in an ongoing crusade against him.
“I’m my father’s son,” he said. “Yeah, I’m young and that’s hard for people to handle. I’m not a member of the elites. I’m not embarrassed by it.
“I’m Moroccan,” he added, hinting at a racial bias against him. “I’m Libyan.”
The report sparked denunciations of Hazan from several politicians, although members of his Likud party refrained from commenting.
If true, Kulanu MK Rachel Azaria said, the report “is very troubling. The possibility that a member of Knesset can take part in betting, drugs, and the selling of women, means that he, basically, cannot represent the Knesset and act as deputy speaker of the Knesset, and even raises doubts as to his ability to serve the Israeli public in our parliament.”
Meretz MK Michal Rozin told Israel Radio that after seeing the Channel 2 report, she immediately contacted Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein and said to him, “It’s unacceptable that a member of Knesset, someone who sold women into prostitution, who paid for prostitution for others, who solicited prostitutes, who pimped prostitutes, should be the face of the Knesset.”
Zahava Gal-on, head of the Meretz party, went so far as to call for an international investigation into Hazan’s alleged crimes on Tuesday. Though local police cannot investigate the allegations as the events took place in Bulgaria, she said, “we need to contact Interpol to look into the matter.”
Jonathan Beck contributed to this report.