Ex-minister, other political figures to be charged in massive graft case
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Ex-minister, other political figures to be charged in massive graft case

Stas Misezhnikov, who held tourism portfolio, suspected of soliciting kickbacks, using coke while in office; 15 others, many linked to Yisrael Beytenu party, also face indictment

Stas Misezhnikov, then-tourism minister, in Jerusalem, October 21, 2012. (oav Ari Dudkevitch / FLASH90)
Stas Misezhnikov, then-tourism minister, in Jerusalem, October 21, 2012. (oav Ari Dudkevitch / FLASH90)

A former tourism minister and over a dozen other political officials will be indicted for a litany of charges, including bribery and fraud, the Justice Ministry said Monday.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit and State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan said Stas Misezhnikov, who served as tourism minister for the Yisrael Beytenu party from 2009 to 2013, is suspected of bribery, fraud and breach of trust, as well as obstruction of justice and possession of a controlled substance.

The indictments, which also include a former deputy minister, come following a two-year investigation into suspicions of wrongdoing centered around the Yisrael Beytenu political party.

Party leader Avigdor Liberman, who serves as defense minister, is not suspected on any crime in the affair, known as case 242.

Among the expected charges, Misezhnikov is suspected of giving NIS 1 million shekels ($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.

According to a report from the Haaretz daily, Misezhnikov is also believed to have sent aides to buy cocaine, which he used during official events in Israel and abroad.

Some 16 officials are expected to be indicted in the case, including Faina Kirshenbaum, who stepped down as deputy interior minister in early 2015 shortly after news of the suspicions against her was published, and who is suspected of bribery, breach of trust, fraud and money laundering, along with other financial felonies.

“This is one of the biggest public corruption investigations that have been uncovered in Israel, both from the point of view of the complexity and sophistication of the method, and the breadth of the activities and the number of people involved,” the Justice Ministry said in a statement.

Tamar Regional Council head Dov Litvinoff is suspected of bribery and breach of trust, while Yisrael Beytenu party headquarters chief David Godovsky is to face indictments for bribery, money laundering, conspiracy to commit a crime, extortion, and tax offenses.

Rami Cohen, former director of the Agriculture Ministry, is suspected of bribery offenses, fraud, forgery, falsifying corporate documents and obstruction of justice.

His wife, Batya Cohen, is suspected of similar offenses.

Deputy Interior Minister Faina Kirshenbaum attends a conference of Yisrael Beytenu activists in Ariel, on December 30, 2014. (photo credit: Gili Yaari/FLASH90)
Deputy Interior Minister Faina Kirshenbaum attends a conference of Yisrael Beytenu activists in Ariel, on December 30, 2014. (photo credit: Gili Yaari/FLASH90)

Several other suspects, among them top former local politicians and party officials, are also accused of taking or giving bribes.

There were “a great number of different corruption cases, which were uncovered in the framework of the investigation, between which there is a connecting thread that points to a systematic organized method to commit offenses,” the ministry said.

The case was called one of the largest corruption scandals in the country’s history when police carried out raids against suspects and party institutions in December 2014.

Police said then that the investigation revealed a labyrinthine system in which politicians funneled public funds and favors to local bodies and other groups, as well as their members, in exchange for kickbacks.

Investigators say that 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.

The arrests came months before an 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.

In October 2015 police said they would recommend indicting some 36 current and former public officials, including several former lawmakers from the Yisrael Beytenu party.

The results of the probe were handed over to the State Attorney’s Office to decide which suspects to indict over allegations of systemic corruption.

It was not immediately clear why charges had not been announced against the other 20 suspects.

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