Former Likud minister Haim Katz has reportedly been questioned by the Tax Authority three times in recent months over suspected tax offenses, according to a Friday report.
Katz was most recently questioned on Thursday, the Kan public broadcaster reported. The suspected offenses involve apartments Katz owns, the report said.
Katz was granted parliamentary immunity earlier this year from a criminal probe over charges of fraud and breach of trust.
The new investigation is being carried out by the Tax Authority with the backing of Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit and began several months ago.
Responding to the report, Katz said he had been investigated starting in 2017 over several suspected offenses and that all the cases had been closed.
“The Tax Authority is investigating me on a matter that no citizen has been investigated for, because of a controversy over several thousand shekels. This will also be closed,” Katz said.
Katz is set to head the Knesset’s Labor and Welfare Committee in the next government, a position he held from 2005 to 2006 and again from 2009 to 2013, during which time he allegedly perpetrated the fraud and breach of trust for which he will stand trial.
After Mandelblit’s August 2019 decision to indict Katz, the then-welfare minister resigned from the cabinet, adhering to a practice established in the 1990s with the court-upheld resignations of indicted cabinet members Aryeh Deri and Raphael Pinhasi.
In February, Knesset members voted in favor of granting Katz parliamentary immunity from a criminal probe into charges of fraud and breach of trust, preventing Mandelblit from filing an indictment against the former minister.
MKs voted by 62 to 43 in favor of one request by Katz arguing that he had carried out the alleged actions in “good faith” and as part of his work as an MK; and 63 to 42 in favor of a second arguing that he had already faced censure by the Knesset Ethics Committee.
According to the 2005 law on parliamentary immunity, “substantive immunity” — a form of parliamentary immunity that permanently blocks an indictment and not just while the accused is a serving MK — can be granted by the Knesset for actions the House Committee finds were committed in the legitimate fulfillment of parliamentary duties.
Katz was facing the charges for allegedly advancing a bill on corporate bond repayment pushed by a financial consultant who was a close friend and financial adviser to Katz himself, and which benefited him financially once it became law. Katz was also accused of concealing those conflicts of interest.
Speaking immediately before the vote on his immunity, Katz denied wrongdoing, defending his work on the bill as key to protecting small investors and claiming that he was facing “unfair accusations that have damaged me personally and professionally.”
The vote was broadly along partisan lines — representatives of Likud, Yisrael Beytenu, Shas, United Torah Judaism and Yamina all sided with Katz; while those of Blue and White, Labor-Gesher, Democratic Camp and the Joint List largely voted against immunity.
The indictment centered on allegations that during Katz’s two terms as Knesset Labor and Welfare Committee chairman, he advanced an amendment dealing with corporate bond repayment to the existing Securities Law at the request of businessman Mordechai Ben Ari.
The law stipulates that companies must repay bond debt to small bond holders before it repays controlling owners — an attempt to buck the influence of wealthy and powerful investors in order to help protect the interests of small investors. Ben Ari’s business represents groups of such small bond holders in several companies.
In February in a Knesset House Committee debate on Katz’s request, Mandelblit said that he had earned large sums of money by investing according to Ben Ari’s advice and even through Ben Ari himself. The attorney general argued that that relationship had created a significant conflict of interest in Katz’s advancing an amendment directly related to those investments, even if no money changed hands between them directly.
The attorney general told MKs that the misdeeds were not just in advancing the legislation amid an undeclared conflict of interest, but included “a variety of deceitful actions and misrepresentations that included deliberate concealment. This is fraud and breach of trust at the highest level.”
Katz had also been a criminal suspect in a second separate corruption investigation relating to his time as head of the Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) workers’ union, but Mandelblit notified Katz’s legal team that he has decided to close that case against the minister.