Police push for indictments in Yisrael Beytenu scandal

15 face corruption charges; most senior of them, former deputy minister Faina Kirshenbaum, held for questioning

Then deputy interior minister Faina Kirshenbaum attends a conference of Yisrael Beytenu activists in the West Bank settlement of Ariel on December 30, 2014. (Gili Yaari/Flash90)
Then deputy interior minister Faina Kirshenbaum attends a conference of Yisrael Beytenu activists in the West Bank settlement of Ariel on December 30, 2014. (Gili Yaari/Flash90)

Police said on Saturday night that they would recommend indicting some 15 current and former officials from the Yisrael Beytenu party and other public figures, having concluded an investigation into allegations of systemic corruption. The results of the probe are to be handed over to the State Attorney’s Office in May, and State Attorney Shai Nitzan will decide whom to indict.

The most senior suspect is former deputy interior minister Faina Kirshenbaum, whose daughter Ranit Kirshenbaum and adviser Vica Rabin are also suspects. She announced her retirement from politics ahead of the March 2015 Knesset election.

Kirshenbaum was detained for questioning on Sunday over her alleged part in the affair. Investigators from Israel Police’s Lahav 433 anti-Fraud Unit searched Kirshenbaum’s home and also detained her daughter, her son and several others. She was not detained previously because, being a minister and Knesset member, she had immunity.

Israel Police Commissioner Yohanan Danino said on Saturday that police have convinced six suspects to turn state’s evidence. Their names have not released for publication, but police officials said that in most cases the witnesses were offered a more lenient sentence, and would not be let off the hook altogether.

Israel's Chief of Police Yohanan Danino has to deal with another sexual harassment scandal. Here he is at Border Police headquarters in Jerusalem on November 13, 2014. (Photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90.)
Israel’s Chief of Police Yohanan Danino. (Photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90.)

Police said the high number of state witnesses was due to the investigation branching out into several smaller affairs. Kirshenabum and her inner circle were allegedly the sole people who were aware of all the various affairs.

Former tourism minister Stas Misezhnikov, Megilot Regional Council head Mordechai Dehman, Tamar Regional Council head Dov Litvinoff, and Afula Mayor Yitzhak Miron and his deputy Boris Yudis are all likely to be indicted, police said. Also among the suspects are former Agriculture Ministry director-general Rami Cohen and Yisrael Beytenu party headquarters chief David Godovsky.

Upon announcing the investigation in late December, police described suspicions that party officials and others had “conspired in a calculated manner to advance their personal and public interests and to receive money for personal use, while committing various crimes in a manner that significantly impeded the administration of their areas of governance.”

Investigators suspect that large sums of money were inappropriately funneled to non-government organizations and various other groups. In return, those groups allegedly made nepotistic appointments, as well as circulated some of the money back to public service officials in the form of cash kickbacks and benefits.

“The covert investigation revealed a calculated method wherein the suspects and their representatives unlawfully transferred, using their powers as public officials, large sums of public funds to [various] bodies and authorities, in exchange for large benefits for them or their associates, including appointments, payments and more,” a police statement said.

Foreign Minister  Avigdor Liberman speaks to Channel 2 Friday, January 16, 2015. (Photo credit: Channel 2 screenshot)
Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman. (Photo credit: Channel 2 screenshot)

Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, the leader of the Yisrael Beytenu party, who has himself been cleared of various corruption charges after exhaustive investigations that lasted more than a decade, accused police of conducting a witch hunt against his party. Liberman, who is not suspected of involvement in the scandal, charged that “with Yisrael Beytenu, there are no elections without investigations.”

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