Police find $600,000 in Ben-Eliezer’s secret safe

Former presidential candidate initially denied deposit box existed; investigators to check if cash was declared

Marissa Newman is The Times of Israel political correspondent.

Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, April 30, 2014, in Tel Aviv. (AP/Dan Balilty)
Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, April 30, 2014, in Tel Aviv. (AP/Dan Balilty)

Days after presidential hopeful MK Binyamin Ben-Eliezer withdrew from the race over alleged financial impropriety, police investigators uncovered a private safe deposit box with $600,000 in cash stashed inside it on Monday.

The Labor MK had denied Friday that he rented a safe deposit box, and later — after consulting with his attorney — conceded that he had a clandestine safe at a branch of Bank Discount in Jerusalem, but insisted that it contained only tens of thousands of shekels.

Police were set to investigate whether the funds had ever been declared to tax authorities.

Ben-Eliezer’s attorney, Nevot Tel-Tzur, attacked the “unprecedented wave of leaks [to the media]” in a letter to police’s National Fraud Unit on Monday, claiming many allegations were published prior to being presented to the defendant.

“This reached a new record with a deliberate leak on a ‘police raid’ on Ben-Eliezer’s secret safe in Jerusalem,” he wrote. “This is unacceptable, as the visit to the safe was a planned visit, scheduled in advance with the undersigned, and this in addition to providing a report on the contents of the safe to the police, both orally and in writing, last night.”

Earlier on Monday, Ben-Eliezer addressed the allegations against him. “I was astonished to learn that the police had the information about me for a full year and they did nothing with it,” he said. “Why, for a year, did they not call me in to inquire after the facts? Who prompted them to call me precisely now, three days before the presidential elections, when I am the leading contender?”

The former candidate’s close associates said Monday that “every shekel Ben-Eliezer has, and ever shekel that went toward purchasing his apartment, has an address and it is documented and transparent.”

“We have no doubt that the truth will soon come to light,” they added.

In addition to the cash in his safe deposit box, police suspect, Ben-Eliezer may have acquired the funds to purchase his apartment in Jaffa’s upscale Laura complex in exchange for providing Israeli businessman Abraham Nanikashvili with certain unspecified services. The apartment, which Ben-Eliezer bought two years ago, is worth close to NIS 9 million (a little over $2.5 million). Nanikashvili, who was also questioned Friday, acknowledged making a $400,000 loan to Ben-Eliezer in 2011, Channel 2 reported, and denied any wrongdoing. Ben-Eliezer, who initially denied receiving the money but then admitted it, was reportedly questioned under caution. He denied any wrongdoing.

Police are also investigating a separate $350,000 payment from a relative, and alleged improprieties relating to other large sums of money.

Ben-Eliezer formally dropped his bid for Israel’s presidency Saturday, three days before the election and a day after he was questioned by police for alleged financial impropriety.

“With a very heavy heart, I have made the decision to withdraw from the race for the presidency,” Ben Eliezer wrote in a Facebook post. “I have had my good name since the day I was born, and it is my intention to keep my name, honor and truth.”

Spencer Ho and Adiv Sterman contributed to this report.

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