Police raid Transportation Ministry offices amid probe of alleged corruption

Cops seize documents but don’t say if Minister Miri Regev is a suspect; ministry dismisses allegations, insists officers are searching for files ‘that don’t exist’

Transportation Minister Miri Regev arrives for a government meeting on Jerusalem Day at the Bible Lands Museum in Jerusalem, on June 5, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Transportation Minister Miri Regev arrives for a government meeting on Jerusalem Day at the Bible Lands Museum in Jerusalem, on June 5, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Israel Police raided the Transportation Ministry’s offices in Jerusalem on Monday, conducted searches, and seized documents as part of an investigation into alleged corruption in the ministry.

Police said the Lahav 433 national crime squad had opened a criminal investigation into activity in the ministry on suspicions of fraud, breach of trust, and obstruction of justice. The announcement followed a damning media report alleging that Transportation Minister Miri Regev systematically gave preferential treatment to local officials across the country who assisted her politically.

The Transportation Ministry said in a statement that it would cooperate with police to show that the media report was “far-fetched.”

According to police, Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara and State Attorney Amit Aisman ordered the opening of the investigation “on suspicion of crimes in the field of ethical [misconduct] and interfering in legal proceedings that were allegedly done in the Transportation Ministry,” following an investigation into Regev’s conduct by Channel 13.

The police statement did not say whether Regev, a senior member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ruling Likud party, is herself a subject of the investigation.

In its statement, the ministry said it was “regrettable” that police opened the investigation after the airing of Channel 13’s “untrue investigation.” The police, it said, “came to search the Transportation Ministry for documents that don’t exist.”

The statement said that the television probe was “fabricated” and denied the core accusation of preferences given to political allies.

“The Transportation Ministry distributes its budgets according to the policy and the decision of the professionals, and any other claim is false,” it said.

The statement asserted that the ministry would cooperate with police “to prove how far-fetched the claims made” by Channel 13 were.

Yesh Atid MK Boaz Toporovsky attends a Law and Constitution Committee meeting in the Knesset, on June 26, 2022. (Olivier FItoussi/Flash90)

Following the broadcast of the TV report last month, the Movement for a Quality Government lobbying group asked the attorney general and police to investigate Regev. The group welcomed news that police had opened an investigation into “the clear suspicions that have arisen against Transportation Minister Miri Regev” but also lamented that in recent years there have been too few similar probes, enabling corruption to become “the norm.”

Opposition MK Boaz Toporovsky of the Yesh Atid party, who chairs the Knesset’s Road Safety Committee, alleged that corruption at the ministry had cost lives, suggesting that funds that would have gone toward improving roads were wrongly diverted elsewhere.

“Corruption in the Transportation Ministry and Road Safety [Authority] has cost lives and as long as it is not rooted out, it will continue to endanger us all,” he said in a statement. “The findings… testify to the criminal conduct of those who have been given the power to act for the public, and instead they used it for their own ends, harming the citizens of Israel, and costing many lives, many injuries and billions of shekels.”

The allegations in the Channel 13 report were based on official memoranda and internal group chats supplied by Yonatan Yehosef, formerly the chief of the Transportation Ministry’s professional staff.

According to the report, Regev ranked cities by the level of political assistance she received from their mayors and local officials in Likud primaries, agreeing to assist cities and municipalities with transportation projects and requirements if they had been helpful to her and rejecting or ignoring those that were politically antagonistic to her.

Among the documents produced by Yehosef was a spreadsheet in which towns and cities were sorted by color code. “Green” cities were to be “fought for” at all costs; “yellow” cities could be handled charitably where possible, but “if not — it’s not the end of the world”; and “white” cities meant: “send letters, we’ll talk,” said Yehosef.

Still worse were “red” cities, which were to be actively ignored. For example, Nisan Ben Hamo, mayor of “red” Arad, told Channel 13 that Regev’s ministry had never responded to his requests to repair the notoriously dangerous Route 31, which connects the southern city with the Dead Sea.

Yonatan Yehosef, former chief of Transportation Minister Miri Regev’s professional staff, in a whistleblowing interview to the ‘Makor’ investigative program on Channel 13, which aired May 23, 2024. (Screen capture: Channel 13, used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

Yehosef explained that each locality’s color code was determined by the number of votes, if any, that its mayor had secured for Regev in the Likud party’s primaries.

The politicking had tangible effects on the allotment of her ministry’s budget, the TV report indicated. Beit Shemesh, for example, was denied NIS 1 billion ($270 million) promised to it at the recommendation of the ministry’s professional staff that was divvied up among projects elsewhere, apparently at Regev’s insistence.

In a statement at the time, Regev called the report “a collection of lies, false claims, half-truths and distortion of reality,” slamming Yehosef as someone “who stole documents from the Transportation Ministry” to defame her.

The Kan public broadcaster reported that before the Channel 13 probe was aired, Regev contacted Attorney General Baharav-Miara seeking a ban to prevent the investigation from being shown while claiming Yehosef had stolen documents from her office and forged others.

However, Baharav-Miara found no legal reason to stop the segment from being shown and responded that the matter was being looked into. After it was aired, Regev filed a complaint with police against Yehosef claiming he stole and forged documents.

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