Former deputy minister Faina Kirshenbaum of the Yisrael Beytenu party entered prison on Wednesday to start a 10-year sentence for her role in arranging a wide-reaching kickback scheme considered one of the largest cases of political corruption the country has seen.
Kirshenbaum, 66, was sentenced in July following a conviction of bribery, tax offenses, money laundering, fraud and breach of trust. Her prison sentence, which she is serving out at the Neve Tirtza women’s prison in Ramle, is the longest ever imposed on a serving or past Knesset member for corruption offenses.
Kirshenbaum has appealed her conviction and sentence at the Supreme Court, and asked that her sentence be deferred pending the outcome of the appeal. However, in October the court rejected her request to delay entering prison on the grounds that the appeal’s chances of success were low.
Kirshenbaum was one of the post powerful figures snared in a far-reaching corruption investigation into the Yisrael Beytenu party, which has been chaired by Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman since he founded it in 1999. Liberman himself was not a suspect in the case.
Handing down the sentence in July, the Tel Aviv District Court accepted the prosecution’s arguments in full and said Kirshenbaum’s conduct had been systematic and uniquely large-scale. She was also fined NIS 900,000 ($274,000).
Judge Yaron Levy said at the time that Kirshenbaum had taken bribes in a “systematic, cunning and sophisticated” manner over six years from eight separate, unconnected sources, amounting to some NIS 2 million ($604,415), repeating comments he made when he announced the verdict. The benefits and cash were used by Kirshenbaum, members of her family, confidants and the Yisrael Beytenu party, he said.
Kirshenbaum’s defense team called the sentence “disproportionate, cruel and merciless.”
Previously the party’s director-general, Kirshenbaum was elected to the Knesset in 2009 and served as deputy minister from 2013 to 2015. She resigned shortly after she was named as a suspect in the investigation.
She was accused, along with former party headquarters chief David Godovsky, of inappropriately funneling large sums of money to various organizations. 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 July 2018, the Tel Aviv District Court sentenced Godovsky to seven years in prison after he was convicted of four counts of taking bribes, three of money laundering, and two of requesting bribes.
The three-year investigation in Yisrael Beytenu first became public in December 2014 with the arrest of 36 serving and former officials. So far 17 people have been convicted in what is known as Case 242.
The most prominent public official felled by the probe was former tourism minister Stas Misezhnikov, who was sent to prison in October 2017 for a 15-month term after he was convicted of attempting to secure employment for his romantic partner in 2012 by funding a student festival in Eilat with ministry funds. Organizers of the festival paid the woman tens of thousands of shekels, while the ministry’s funding came to some NIS 1 million ($305,000).