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Litzman aide, adviser arrested for alleged corruption involving Tnuva company

Police suspect public officials involved in bribery scheme that saw them advance commercial interests of large companies

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Motti Babchik seen in the Knesset on March 3, 2020 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Motti Babchik seen in the Knesset on March 3, 2020 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Several people were arrested Sunday on suspicion of corruption, the Israel Police said in a statement, with a key suspect an assistant to a Housing Minister Yaakov Litzman. Litzman until last year had for years led the Health Ministry.

The identities of those arrested were initially barred from publication, but were then released. The aide was Motti Babchik, Litzman’s senior assistant and close confidant. Another person arrested was Menachem Gesheid, a senior adviser to Litzman.

Others nabbed included a department head at dairy conglomerate Tnuva and top officials at a medical company and a lobbying firm.

Israel Police said in a statement that following an undercover investigation the suspects were arrested and questioned under caution. Several other people were also detained on suspicion of corruption, fraud, and breach of trust.

Searches were made at several addresses in addition to the homes and offices of the suspects.

A Tnuva plant near Jerusalem on May 1, 2015. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Police said the suspected public servant, apparently a reference to Babchik, used his position to act “in a clear conflict of public interest.”

According to the statement, investigators suspect that on several occasions the civil servant, along with the others involved, took bribes in return for advancing the commercial interests of large companies.

According to Haaretz adviser Gesheid is suspected of acting as a go-between for bribes.

The investigation was initially carried out by an undercover team in the Lahav 443 anti-corruption unit, Channel 13 news reported.

Police said the suspects could be brought before the Rishon Lezion Magistrate’s Court later in the day for remand hearings if deemed necessary.

Hebrew media reports indicated that several Tnuva officials were questioned, and police were checking whether company officials had provided bribes in the form of donations to various Hassidic bodies in return for regulatory favors.

According to the Ynet news site, police were specifically examining benefits relating to the marking of food products. A 2020 reform led by the Health Ministry saw food products high in fat, sugar and sodium clearly marked as such with large red stamps, in order to better inform the public of unhealthy foods.

Litzman himself is suspected of corruption in another case. Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit announced late last month that he has decided to indict the United Torah Judaism member for obstruction of justice and breach of trust, pending a hearing.

Housing Minister Yaakov Litzman of United Torah Judaism speaks during a press conference at the Knesset on May 6, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The pending charges relate to suspicions that Litzman used his former position as deputy health minister to prevent the extradition to Australia of Malka Leifer, a former principal of an Orthodox girls school in Melbourne accused of sexually assaulting minors (Leifer was recently extradited after a yearslong saga); and to prevent the closure of a deli cited for health violations.

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