Firebrand former MK Zoabi set to be charged with fraud, forgery

Attorney general reportedly intends to indict 35 additional suspects in Balad party over alleged multi-million shekel scheme

Joint List MK Hanin Zoabi is removed by Knesset security during her speech at a plenum session in the Knesset on February 8, 2016. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Joint List MK Hanin Zoabi is removed by Knesset security during her speech at a plenum session in the Knesset on February 8, 2016. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Attorney General Avichai Mandeblit on Thursday informed former Knesset lawmaker Hanin Zoabi of the Arab Israeli Balad party that he intends to indict her on a series of fraud charges, pending a hearing.

Zoabi is suspected of aggravated forgery, falsifying corporate documents, money-laundering, and aggravated fraud. Her pre-indictment hearing date was not immediately announced.

According to Hebrew reports, another 35 suspects will be charged in the far-reaching investigation of alleged financial irregularities in the Balad party, a hard-line Palestinian nationalist faction that makes up part of the Joint List party.

Balad on Thursday condemned the looming criminal charges as “a vindictive step of political persecution.” The decision “to announce it during an election campaign clearly underlines this,” the party said, referring to the upcoming September vote.

Police suspect that for several years senior party members systematically deceived authorities and the state comptroller by misrepresenting the source of millions of shekels the party had received.

In September 2016, arrests were made against more than 20 activists and members of Balad, including the party’s accountant. Balad allegedly reported large donations from “various sources in Israel and abroad” as if they were hundreds of smaller contributions made within Israel, according to police.

Balad party MKs Hanin Zoabi, right, and Jamal Zahalka, center, both of the Joint (Arab) List Faction, seen at the court hearing of fellow faction member MK Basel Ghattas at the Rehovot Magistrate’s Court, January 5, 2017. (Avi Dishi/Flash90)

An investigation was opened in 2016 by the police Lahav 433 fraud unit after a state comptroller report found issues with the party’s donations and expenses.

In January 2018, police recommended criminal charges against MKs Zoabi, Jamal Zahalka, and Juma Azbarga regarding donations Balad received during the 2013 elections and party spending during the 2015 elections. Police recommendations have no legal weight, however, the decision to press charges lies with the state prosecutor.

At the time, suspected lawmakers were all questioned, as well as former Balad MK Basel Ghattas, who was serving two years in prison for smuggling mobile phones to Palestinian security prisoners.

The proposed charges against Zoabi came a day after reports said Likud minister Haim Katz would imminently be charged for fraud and breach of trust.

On Tuesday, police recommended that Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman be indicted on charges of fraud and breach of trust for using his office to illicitly provide assistance to an alleged serial sex abuser, as well as on a separate bribery charge for helping to prevent the closure of a food business that his own ministry had deemed unsanitary.

Zoabi was branded an unpopular figure in Israel after she called for the dissolution of the State of Israel, labeled Israeli soldiers “murderers,” and sailed on the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara in 2010 in a bid to break Israel’s blockade of Gaza.

She announced her departure from political life in January to the cheers of Jewish lawmakers, several days after fellow party member Zahalka said he wouldn’t seek reelection.

Balad, which advocates for a binational state for Palestinians and Israelis, has been dogged by controversy. Party founder Azmi Bishara fled Israel in 2007 after being accused of passing secrets to the Hezbollah terror group.

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