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Former senior Yisrael Beytenu lawmaker convicted of bribery

Faina Kirshenbaum found guilty of bribery, tax offenses, money laundering, fraud and breach of trust for misusing government funds in sprawling corruption case

Former Yisrael Beytneu MK Faina Kirschenbaum seen at the Tel Aviv District Court, March 25, 2021. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Former Yisrael Beytneu MK Faina Kirschenbaum seen at the Tel Aviv District Court, March 25, 2021. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

A former senior lawmaker for the Yisrael Beytenu party was convicted Thursday of bribery charges for arranging for various bodies to receive government funding in return for kickbacks and payoffs.

The Tel Aviv District Court found Faina Kirshenbaum, a former deputy interior minister, guilty of bribery, tax offenses, money laundering, fraud and breach of trust.

Kirshenbaum is one of the main figures in a far-reaching corruption investigation into the Yisrael Beytenu party, which is chaired by former defense minister Avigdor Liberman. Liberman himself is not a suspect in the case, which has felled other party officials.

In a further conviction related to the case, former Agriculture Ministry director-general Rami Cohen was convicted Thursday of bribery and money laundering for assisting Kirshenbaum in carrying out her crimes.

They will be sentenced at a later date and are likely facing years in prison.

Judge Yaron Levy said 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). The benefits and cash were used by Kirshenbaum, members of her family, confidants and the Yisrael Beytenu party, he said.

Kirshenbaum “skillfully developed an endless variety of ways and excuses to circumvent the rules of proper administration and use public money as if it were her own,” Levy said, noting that she wielded “great power” over millions of shekels every year.

Former Agricultural Ministry director-general Rami Cohen, right along with former Yisrael Beytenu lawmaker Faina Kirschenbaum, right, seen at the District Court in Tel Aviv on March 25, 2021. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

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 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 to be felled by the probe was former tourism minister and Yisrael Beytenu lawmaker Stas Misezhnikov, who began serving a 15-month prison term in October 2017 after he was convicted of attempting to secure employment for his romantic partner in 2012 by funding a student festival in Eilat using 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 ($270,000).

No stranger to scandal, Liberman was embroiled in corruption investigations for the better part of 17 years but was never convicted of wrongdoing.

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