Ex-defense minister Ben-Eliezer charged in graft case
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Ex-defense minister Ben-Eliezer charged in graft case

Former Labor Party leader’s attorney appears in his stead, denies corruption charges leveled against one-time presidential candidate

Binyamin Ben-Eliezer in 2014. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Binyamin Ben-Eliezer in 2014. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Retired lawmaker Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, a former defense minister, Labor Party leader and presidential candidate, was indicted in absentia Monday at the Tel Aviv District Court on a slew of graft charges.

Ben-Eliezer’s attorney appeared in court instead of his client and stated that he denied all the charges brought against his client, Israel Radio reported.

Judge George Kara on Saturday agreed with Ben-Eliezer’s attorneys, who argued that the former minister, who suffers from kidney disease, should not have to attend the hearing due to his poor health. Ben-Eliezer will be required to be present for the court proceedings.

Ben-Eliezer, 80, who left the Knesset in 2014 after a 30-year political career with Labor, was indicted in December by state prosecutors for demanding and receiving over two million shekels (over $500,000) from businesspeople in exchange for actions he allegedly took as a public servant.

He is also accused of receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of foreign currencies that he kept hidden and unreported in safes in his home and a bank, apparently in violation of tax laws and transparency rules for Knesset members. The funds were purportedly used to buy real estate, including an apartment in Jaffa.

The criminal proceedings against Ben-Eliezer began when then-attorney general Yehuda Weinstein in January 2015 accepted a police recommendation to indict the politician and 10 of his associates.

Police said a six-month investigation in 2014 uncovered evidence Ben-Eliezer had accepted funds from businessmen for unspecified financial favors in 2006, when he served as national infrastructure minister. He is also accused of laundering money using the bank accounts of several relatives.

Police also investigated a separate $350,000 payment from a relative, and alleged improprieties relating to other large sums of money.

The businessmen Abraham Nanikashvili and Jacky Ben-Zaken, and Ben-Eliezer’s former bureau chief Ayelet Azoulay, were among the 10 suspects.

Ben-Eliezer’s attorneys last year attempted to reach a settlement in the case without going to trial, citing his poor health, but Weinstein rejected the request.

In December 2014, the politician announced he would leave politics to focus on his health and clearing his name.

The probe prompted the veteran MK to drop a bid for Israel’s presidency in June of that year, three days before the election.

Ben-Eliezer has suffered from various health issues for a number of years, and in December 2014 underwent a kidney transplant. Several months later, he was hospitalized with a serious case of influenza, at which time he was hooked up to life support until his condition improved.

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