Days after Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman launched a scathing attack on the police for a wide-scale graft investigation which involves several of his party members, Liberman told an audience at a cultural event on Saturday that it was the police’s duty to investigate any suspicion.
However, he also charged that efforts by the investigating authorities to persuade suspects to become state’s witnesses in the affair had extended “beyond heavy pressure to real extortion.” And he said one of the people questioned in the affair, who was not suspected of criminal activity “but was questioned in order to exert pressure on others… tried to put an end to his life.”
On Tuesday, Liberman accused the police and the justice system of a “persona vendetta” against him and his party, making it clear that he believed the motive for the probe was political, due to its timing ahead of the general election. He noted that he had been under several investigations by police throughout the years which had not led to criminal convictions.
The Yisrael Beytenu head said on Saturday that “those [people] who made mistakes should pay the price,” adding that it was “the right and duty of the police to investigate any suspicion that comes up,” Channel 10 reported. “I believe in the Israeli justice system,” said Liberman.
He did, however, slam the media for “already convicting” the party before the police probe ends, according to Israel Radio. Liberman added that this investigation was the 6th attempt to drag the party’s name through the mud since it was founded.
A year-long undercover corruption investigation became public last month when police arrested 31 suspects in the affair, which allegedly involves a large system of bribes to Yisrael Beytenu politicians in return for political favors.
Investigators suspect cash was inappropriately transferred to non-government organizations and various other groups. In return, the organizations allegedly made nepotistic appointments, as well as circulating some of the money back to public officials in the form of cash payoffs and benefits.
Many of the suspects in the affair are high-level members of Liberman’s party, including Deputy Interior Minister Faina Kirshenbaum, who is a key suspect in the case along with her daughter Ranit.
On Friday, Kirshenbaum, announced her intention to leave politics before changing her mind and deciding to stay, reportedly at the request of Liberman.
According to Channel 2 News, Kirshenbaum notified Liberman of her decision not to vie for a spot on the party roster in the coming election, citing pressure from family and friends. Kirshenbaum, who also heads the party’s campaign committee, asked to be relieved of those duties as well. But when Liberman rejected the resignation and asked her to reconsider, Kirshenbaum acquiesced.
Thirty-two people have been arrested in the case to date, and 103 questioned. The scandal revolves around no fewer than 16 major cases, Channel 2 reported on Friday, claiming that Kirshenbaum was linked to nine or ten of them.
Attorney General Yehudah Weinstein on Wednesday berated Kirshenbaum for going to work in her ministry while the probe is ongoing.
In a letter, Weinstein warned Kirshenbaum could be obstructing the investigation through her presence at the ministry and demanded that she refrain from going into work for 30 days.
In a response, Kirshenbaum denied that she had been going into work as usual, the Hebrew-language Ynet website reported.
“Contrary to the information brought before you, since the investigation became public and was publicized in the media, I have not been to the Interior Ministry at all, and furthermore, I have not carried out my duties as the deputy interior minister,” she said.
Liberman on Saturday slammed Weinstein for issuing the warning, since “she hadn’t been to the office once” since the scandal erupted publicly.
Stuart Winer contributed to this report.
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