Police have been conducting a probe into potential foul play by Education Minister Naftali Bennett during his campaign for leadership of the national-religious Jewish Home party seven years ago, an Israeli newspaper reported Wednesday.
Bennett was elected Jewish Home leader in 2012 and led it until last month, when he and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked announced they were jumping to ship to set up the New Right party ahead of the upcoming April elections.
According to the Haaretz daily, investigators from the Lahav 433 anti-corruption unit are looking into the 2012 primary victory over Jewish Home veteran Zevulun Orlev, specifically suspicions that Bennett received large sums of money for his leadership campaign without reporting the funding the State Comptroller as required by law.
The report said investigators have called a number of people to give testimony in the probe, including political consultant Moshe Klughaft, who managed Bennett’s leadership bid and the Jewish Home’s election campaigns in 2013 and 2015.
Though the probe has been open for some time, the newspaper said it remained unclear whether it would develop into a full-blown criminal investigation. It quoted unnamed sources involved in the probe criticizing how long it has lasted and saying sufficient evidence has been gathered to expand its scope.
A spokesperson for Bennett said he was not familiar with the matter.
Following the 2013 and 2015 elections, Bennett was fined NIS 65,000 ($17,740) and NIS 30,000 ($8,190) respectively by the State Comptroller for exceeding the amount of permitted campaign funding.
State Comptroller Yosef Shapira said in 2015 that Bennett had exceeded the maximum amount of both permitted donations and expenses. Bennett received NIS 1,244,512 ($320,000) in donations, mostly from abroad, and spent 1,206,949 ($310,000).
Shapira dismissed Bennett’s defense that he needed the hefty funds to stand for the party leadership, noting that there was no real contender running against him. He added that in advertising for the primaries, Bennett had pushed the Jewish Home party as a whole in the promotions, an issue he said compromised the rules of the primaries. Shapira also said that Bennett did not handle his bank accounts in accordance with the comptroller’s office’s instructions and fined him NIS 30,000 ($7,700).