Court hands down second conviction in sprawling Yisrael Beytenu corruption probe

Court hands down second conviction in sprawling Yisrael Beytenu corruption probe

Trade association chief confesses to bribing party officials in 2014; conviction follows 2017 imprisonment of former minister Stas Misezhnikov

Deputy Interior Minister Faina Kirshenbaum at a Knesset Finance Committee meeting, May 19, 2014 (Hadas Parush/Flash 90)
Deputy Interior Minister Faina Kirshenbaum at a Knesset Finance Committee meeting, May 19, 2014 (Hadas Parush/Flash 90)

The Tel Aviv District Court on Wednesday issued the second conviction in the sprawling Yisrael Beytenu corruption probe against multiple high-level party officials.

Irena Waldberg, the director of the Israel Entrepreneurs Association, was convicted of bribery for using her organization’s funds to pay for trips to Serbia and Ukraine for Yisrael Beytenu officials in 2014.

According to the conviction documents, former Yisrael Beytenu secretary general and then-deputy interior minister Faina Kirshenbaum had a close working relationship with Waldberg, and worked to help the IEA secure funding from various sources. In early 2014, Waldberg asked for Kirshenbaum’s help in forging a relationship with Israel’s Anti-Drug Authority. Kirshenbaum made the connection, which resulted in March 2014 in the association becoming a partner in a project funded by the IADA at the College of Management in Rishon Lezion that studied the rehabilitation of drug addicts.

Five months later, in August, party official David Godovsky sought to fly to Serbia and Ukraine, ostensibly to examine ways to encourage the immigration of Jews from those countries. At Kirshenbaum’s instructions, according to the court, Godovsky turned to Waldberg and asked her to fund the trip for him and Kirshenbaum’s spokesperson at the time at a total cost of NIS 15,084 ($4,400).

Waldberg agreed, and used her organization’s funds to pay for the trip.

Waldberg confessed to the bribery in a plea bargain that reduced the amount of prison time sought by the prosecution to six months. Waldberg’s attorneys, according to the plea bargain, will ask for a sentence of 5.5 months, to be served as community service.

Waldberg is also being fined NIS 30,000 ($8,700), an amount set at twice the value of the bribe.

In October 2017, Kirshenbaum herself was among 10 officials linked to Yisrael Beytenu who were formally indicted on a litany of corruption charges, including bribery, fraud and money laundering.

The three-year investigation centered around the party, known as Case 242, is one of the most far-reaching public corruption cases in Israel’s history. It became public in December 2014 with the arrest of 36 serving and former officials. The arrests came about four months before the 2015 election, which saw Yisrael Beytenu shrink to six seats, leading to accusations by party officials that it amounted to a political witch hunt.

The most prominent public official to be felled by the probe was former tourism minister and Yisrael Beytenu lawmaker Stas Misezhnikov, who began serving a 15-month prison term in October after he was convicted of attempting to secure employment for his romantic partner in 2012 by funding a student festival in Eilat using ministry funds. Organizers of the festival paid the woman tens of thousands of shekels, while the ministry’s funding came to some NIS 1 million ($270,000).

During the course of the investigation into Misezhnikov’s affairs, police uncovered suspicions that the former minister had regularly sent his aides to buy cocaine, which he allegedly consumed during official events in Israel and abroad. Police filed formal charges in the case, but the charges were dropped in the plea deal.

No stranger to scandal, Yisrael Beytenu’s leader Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, who is not a suspect in Case 242, was embroiled in his own corruption investigations for the better part of 17 years. He was never convicted.

The most recent indictment against Liberman was filed in December 2012, just six weeks before the elections of January 2013, forcing him to resign as foreign minister in the middle of a campaign. In November 2013, Liberman was acquitted of the last set of remaining charges and reinstated as Israel’s chief diplomat.

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