A former tourism minister from the Yisrael Beytenu party began his 15-month prison term on Sunday on breach of trust charges.
Stas Misezhnikov arrived early Sunday morning at Hermon Prison, after pleading guilty as part of a plea deal. He was also fined NIS 70,000 (just under $20,000) as part of the agreement with prosecutors.
Misezhnikov, 48, who served as minister in 2009-2013, was accused of securing his ministry’s funding of a student festival in 2012 in the southern port city of Eilat and then asking organizers to employ his romantic partner in return. Organizers complied, paying her tens of thousands of shekels during that period. The ministry’s funding came to some NIS 1 million ($270,000).
During the course of the investigation, the former minister was also charged with sending aides to buy cocaine, which he allegedly consumed during official events in Israel and abroad. Those charges were dropped in the plea deal.
Misezhnikov’s attorney Yuval Sasson said in a statement last month that his client “took full responsibility for the crime of breach of trust — a crime he committed years ago, when he began serving as the tourism minister in the government.”
“My client resigned from the government and the Knesset and stopped being a civil servant long before the police investigation was opened. Despite this, he prefers to take full responsibility for the crime that was committed, and to save valuable trial time for both sides,” Sasson said.
The charges against Misezhnikov were linked to a massive corruption investigation into a number of Yisrael Beytenu party officials.
In October, former deputy interior minister Faina Kirshenbaum and nine other officials linked to Yisrael Beytenu were indicted for a litany of corruption charges, including bribery, fraud, and money laundering.
A two-year investigation centered around the party, known as Case 242, is one of the most far-reaching public corruption cases in Israel’s history.
To date, 11 people in total, among them top former local politicians and party officials, have been charged with a range of felonies, and a number of other public officials are expected to face charges in the coming weeks.
The investigation was made public in December 2014 with the arrest of 36 serving and former officials.
The arrests in Case 242 came months before the 2015 election which saw Yisrael Beytenu shrink to six seats, leading to accusations by party officials that it amounted to a political witch hunt.
No stranger to scandal, Yisrael Beytenu’s leader Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman was embroiled in corruption investigations for the better part of 17 years. He was never convicted and is not a suspect in the new investigations.
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.
In October 2015 police said they would recommend indicting 36 current and former public officials in the Yisrael Beytenu case, including Misezhnikov.