Ex-deputy minister, other Yisrael Beytenu officials indicted in massive graft case
Faina Kirshenbaum charged with financial felonies including bribery, breach of trust, fraud and money laundering
Raoul Wootliff is the Times of Israel's former political correspondent and producer of the Daily Briefing podcast.
The state prosecution filed indictments Tuesday against a former deputy minister and nine other officials linked to the Yisrael Beytenu political party for a litany of corruption charges, including bribery, fraud and money laundering.
The indictments come after a two-year investigation centered around the party, known as Case 242, in one of the most far-reaching public corruption cases in Israel’s history.
Faina Kirshenbaum, who stepped down as deputy interior minister in early 2015 shortly after news of the suspicions against her was published, was charged with bribery, breach of trust, fraud, money laundering and tax evasion, a statement from the Justice Ministry said.
According to the indictment presented to the Tel Aviv District Court, Kirshenbaum “acted willfully and intentionally, at times with great sophistication, in order to carry out a series of crimes.”
The prosecution said she made use of her position as deputy minister in order to embezzle funds, estimated at millions of dollars.
“In many instances she used her public position, the influence it carries and specifically the control it wields over budgetary appropriations in order to take improper benefits for herself, her close relatives, for the Yisrael Beytenu party and its close associates,” the indictment read.
Previously the party’s director general, Kirshenbaum was elected to the Knesset in 2009 and served as deputy minister from 2013 to 2015.
Ten people in total, among them top former local politicians and party officials, were charged with a range of financial felonies in what the Justice Ministry described as “the first round” of indictments. A number of other public officials are expected to face charges in the coming weeks, including former Yisrael Beytenu minister Stas Misezhnikov.
Next to Kirshenbaum, the most senior Yisrael Beytenu official indicted Tuesday was former party headquarters chief David Godovsky, who faces charges of bribery, money laundering, conspiracy to commit a crime, extortion, and tax offenses.
The prosecution detailed how under Kirshenbaum and Godovsky, large sums of money were inappropriately funneled to non-government organizations and various other groups. In return, those groups allegedly made nepotistic appointments, and also circulated some of the favors back to public service officials in the form of cash kickbacks and benefits.
In addition, Rami Cohen, former director of the Agriculture Ministry, was charged with bribery offenses, fraud, forgery, falsifying corporate documents and obstruction of justice and his wife, Batya Cohen, was charged with similar offenses.
Other indictments were handed to Binyamin Regional Council director Effy Peles; chair of the Ayalim community development NGO Matan Dahan and his deputy Danny Glicksberg; director of the Esra NGO Daniel Alinson; director of the National Association of Entrepreneurs Irena Waldberg; and lobbyist Steven Levy.
“This is one of the biggest public corruption investigations that have been uncovered in Israel, from the point of view of both the complexity and sophistication of the method, and the breadth of the activities and the number of people involved,” the Justice Ministry statement said.
No stranger to scandal, the Yisrael Beytenu party’s leader, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, was embroiled in corruption investigations for the better part of 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 in November 2013, Liberman was acquitted of the last set of remaining charges and reinstated as Israel’s chief diplomat.
The arrests in Case 242 came months before the 2015 election which saw Yisrael Beytenu shrink to six seats, from 31 it had in an alliance with Likud, leading to Liberman making charges of a political witch hunt. He is not personally suspected of any crime in the case.
In October 2015 police said they would recommend indicting some 36 current and former public officials in the case including Misezhnikov, who served as tourism minister for the Yisrael Beytenu party from 2009 to 2013.
In September, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit and State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan said they were considering indicting Misezhnikov for bribery, fraud and breach of trust, as well as obstruction of justice and possession of a controlled substance.
Among the expected charges, Misezhnikov is suspected of giving NIS 1 million ($270,000) toward a students’ festival in the southern port city of Eilat and then asking organizers to employ his partner in return. Organizers complied, paying her tens of thousands of shekels. He is also believed to have sent aides to buy cocaine, which he used during official events in Israel and abroad.
Misezhnikov, along with other suspects linked to Yisrael Beytenu, is expected to be charged in the next round of indictments.