Envoy to South Africa suspected of taking illegal gifts

Arthur Lenk allegedly violated Foreign Ministry protocol by accepting Jewish tycoon’s complimentary weekend away

Israeli ambassador to South Africa, Arthur Lenk. (photo credit: courtesy MFA)
Israeli ambassador to South Africa, Arthur Lenk. (photo credit: courtesy MFA)

Israel ambassador to South Africa may be facing disciplinary action after allegedly receiving illegal benefits from a Jewish businessman and arms manufacturer.

Ambassador Arthur Lenk, who has been serving as Israel’s envoy to South Africa since August 2013, allegedly accepted a VIP weekend safari for himself and his family from billionaire Ivor Ichikowitz, Israel’s Channel 9 News reported.

According to the Foreign Ministry, an investigation into the affair began the moment the incident became known.

“The case is being reviewed by the Foreign Ministry’s internal affairs, which has yet to be completed,” a Foreign Ministry spokesman told The Times of Israel.

Ichikowitz, a prominent philanthropist in the South African Jewish community, is the founder of the Paramount Group, which manufactures a variety of armored vehicles and deals in surplus South African military equipment and aircraft.

According to the Channel 9 report, Ichikowitz and Lenk first met at a party at the ambassador’s residence in October 2013. Two days later, Lenk and his family were seen boarding an Ichikowitz plane to the Madikwe Game Reserve and spending a weekend at the Molori Safari Lodge, also owned by the South African businessman.

Rates at the Molori Safari can reach as much as $1,700 per person for a night.

Lenk and member of his family posted photos on Facebook and Twitter of their weekend away, including pictures of South Africa’s famed fauna. Some photos included the Lenk and Ichikowitz families enjoying their time together.

If true, the Russian-language Israel-based TV network said, Lenk would have been violating Foreign Ministry protocol, which strictly prohibits civil servants from receiving gifts. In the event that such a case arises, civil servants – diplomats included – must immediately report receiving gifts or discounts and pay back their value.

According to the report, Lenk did not spend any of his own money during the entirety of the weekend and did not report it to the Foreign Ministry.

Sources in the Foreign Ministry told Yedioth Ahronoth that if the information is correct then it reflected a complete lack of judgment. “An ambassador cannot receive a gift of this size,” a source told the Israeli daily. “It is not appropriate. We are talking about a family flying and staying at a hotel on the dime of a private businessman.”

Lenk, 50, was born in the US and moved to Israel in 1983. A lawyer by training, he joined the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1994 and served in New Delhi and Los Angeles. Between August 2005 and July 2009 he was Israel’s ambassador to the Republic of Azerbaijan, followed by a stint as director of the Department of International Law in the Office of the Legal Adviser of the Foreign Ministry

A source in the embassy in Pretoria referred inquires to the Foreign Ministry. Lenk, who blogs for The Times of Israel, did not return a request for comment.

Lenk told Yedioth Ahronoth that he would accept the conclusions of the inquiry.

Most Popular
read more: