Foreign Minister and Yisrael Beytenu party head Avigdor Liberman slammed the police investigation against members of his party suspected of a raft of corruption charges.
In a Facebook post on Friday, Liberman charged that when it came to Yisrael Beytenu “there are no elections without investigations.”
“Time after time, without exception, ‘anonymous forces’ intervene in each election cycle and [try to] harm Yisrael Beytenu’s right to compete fairly,” he wrote.
Liberman said he was “convinced of the innocence” of his party members and urged followers not to rush to judgement because “in a democratic society, a person is innocent until proven otherwise.”
The Yisrael Beytenu chairman also protested the “attempt to smear the party as a whole,” and said he was convinced it would emerge stronger and more united, as it had after previous corruption cases. (Liberman himself faced a series of investigations over almost 17 years. 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. But a year later, in November 2013, Liberman was acquitted of the last set of remaining charges and reinstated as Israel’s chief diplomat.)
On Wednesday, some 30 officials were arrested on suspicion of corruption by detectives from the Lahav 433 serious crimes and anti-corruption unit.
Many of the suspects are members of Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu party, which rejected the case as a “witch hunt” aimed at impeding the party’s campaign ahead of the March 2015 election.
Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch, a senior member of the party, was not informed of the probe by the Israel Police, which his ministry oversees.
The investigation was launched amid suspicions that the officials had “conspired in a calculated manner to advance their personal and public interests and to receive money for personal use, while committing various crimes in a manner that significantly impeded the administration of their areas of governance,” police said in a statement that announced the investigation on Wednesday.
Investigators suspect that large sums of money were inappropriately transferred to non-government organizations and various other groups. In return, the organizations allegedly made nepotistic appointments, as well as circulating some of the money back to public service officials in the form of cash payoffs and benefits.
“The covert investigation revealed a calculated method wherein the suspects and their representatives unlawfully transferred, using their powers as public officials, large sums of public funds to [various] bodies and authorities, in exchange for large benefits for them or their associates, including appointments, payments and more,” the police statement said.
On Wednesday night, Deputy Interior Minister Faina Kirshenbaum from Yisrael Beytenu, a key suspect in the case, was released by police after a seven-hour interrogation, but her daughter remained in custody along with dozens of senior officials.
The Rishon Lezion Magistrate’s Court extended the remand for Ranit Kirshenbaum, Faina’s daughter, until Sunday, on suspicion that she had accepted bribes along with her mother.
Among others detained were the head of the Shomron Regional Council, Gershon Mesika, and the treasurer of the Binyamin Regional Council, Effy Peles. The two are accused of bribery and accepting unspecified benefits, and their remand was extended by six days and four days, respectively.
David Godovsky, the chief of staff for Kirshenbaum’s Yisrael Beytenu party, is suspected of several counts of bribery. His remand was extended by nine days.
Agriculture Ministry Director General Rami Cohen is also being held.
Police say they have state’s witnesses and incriminating evidence against some of the suspects. A senior police officer said that the massive bust had saved the state millions, since the illicit money transfers would have continued had the police not intervened.
On Wednesday, the court ordered former tourism minister Stas Misezhnikov to be remanded in police custody for eight days. Misezhnikov is a former Yisrael Beytenu lawmaker who served as minister from 2009 to 2013.
Investigators are looking into suspicions that he fixed millions of shekels worth of government tenders for large public events to benefit personal acquaintances. He is also suspected of receiving bribes in exchange for the transfer of funds to various organizations while serving as tourism minister.
Tamar Regional Council Chairman Dov Litvinoff, as well as Megilot Regional Council head Mordechai Dahamn, and the council’s director David Blau were also arrested.
Police extended the remand of Litvinoff, Dahamn and Blau by eight days as well, the Ynet news site reported. The three are suspected of bribing Kirshenbaum and others on several occasions in exchange for an increase in funding for their local councils.
Other suspects include the Israeli Handball Association Chairman Doron Samhi, who is suspected of bribery and conspiring to commit a crime, and the Israel Basketball Association’s former chairman, Avner Kopel, who is suspected of bribery, fraud and falsifying corporate documents.
The two were released to a 10-day house arrest period after being questioned by police.
In a statement, Yisrael Beytenu said the arrests were part of a pre-election political witch hunt.
Israel Police Chief Yohanan Danino rejected Yisrael Beytenu’s accusations, denying that the investigation was politically motivated.