Police to open corruption investigation into UN Ambassador Danon

State prosecutor instructs police to probe alleged awarding of lucrative jobs at public expense in return for support; Danon denies any wrongdoing

Israeli Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon, seen during a visit of UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres (unseen) at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem, August 28, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Israeli Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon, seen during a visit of UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres (unseen) at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem, August 28, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Police are to open an investigation into alleged corruption by Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations Danny Danon, a TV report said Monday.

Following a television expose a week ago, State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan has ordered police to open an investigation into Danon, saying there appeared to be sufficient evidence against him, Hadashot news reported.

Danon is to be investigated on suspicion of widespread political corruption to further his personal career in the years prior to his appointment to the UN post.

Following the Monday report, Danon again denied any wrongdoing.

“All the actions by Ambassador Danon in his public positions were always in accordance with all the rules and regulations and, of course, an investigation will prove this,” a statement from his office said.

Danon also called for other politicians, particularly from left-wing political parties, who are heading Zionist organizations to be investigated.

The ambassador is a senior member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party.

Following the initial news report, there were immediate calls from opposition lawmakers to investigate Danon.

Danon took control of a department of the World Zionist Organization intended to promote Zionism, and appointed cronies and their relatives to highly salaried positions, paid from public funds, in exchange for their support in Likud primary elections, Hadashot news claimed a week ago.

Danon, a former Likud MK, won the chairmanship of the World Likud organization in 2006 and held the post until 2015, a position which, the TV report said, gave him tremendous influence on appointments and budgets for national institutions. World Likud is one of the World Unions under the aegis of the World Zionist Organization.

Six years ago, Danon appointed an associate of his, Yaakov Hagoel, to head a division of the WZO called Doing Zionism, a small section with 30 employees.

Head of the local department of the Zionist Organization, Yaakov Hagoel, during an event organized by the Zionist Council of Israel and the World Zionist Organization, at the Porat Yosef Yeshiva in the Old City of Jerusalem, on February 7, 2014. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

In 2011, Keren Kayemeth LeYisrael- Jewish National Fund gave no money to Doing Zionism. By 2015, the KKL-JNF’s contribution to that division had risen to NIS 15,117,500 ($4.3 million) and the number of employees had risen to 190.

Hadashot news charged that using the cover of this division, Danon and Hagoel hired Likud workers to further Danon’s career. The official title of the group was the “Eshkolot Project,” which was supposed to work to promote Zionism in Israel. Instead, the report claimed, it became a mechanism for paying thousands of shekels each month to Likud workers who would be loyal to Danon.

Based on interviews, computer files and emails, Hadashot claimed that Danon hand-picked employees to this project, who earned thousands of shekels a month for, in some cases, only a few hours of work.

This use of public money to pay salaries of Danon loyalists continued over many years. In addition, the news report claimed that those who backed Danon would be helped in other ways.

In exchange, these loyalists would have to vote for Danon whenever he ran for a political position, and would be rewarded for adding new voters to the Likud party register.

Elhanan Raziel, a Likud activist, told Hadashot that he worked with Danon in the last three Likud primary elections. He said he was responsible for recruiting some 1,000 Likud members. But he was promised that if he could bring in another 150 members, he would be allocated additional departments, with four additional salaried positions.

Conversely, those who did not vote for Danon were removed from their positions, the report claimed.

One worker, Dudi Eliyahu, had been earning NIS 12,000 ($3,400) a month. But after voting against Danon, his position and salary was cut dramatically, officially due to cutbacks, but unofficially because he had failed to support Danon, the TV report said.

Another, Zali Zeitman, was Danon’s strategy adviser. He was also the strategy adviser for Doing Zionism. In two years he earned NIS 500,000 ($142,000).

Gal Oren ran the Danon’s primary campaign in 2014. He also runs campaigns for “Doing Zionism.” In 2013, his salary was NIS 600,000 ($170,000) and in 2014, he received NIS 1,953,000 ($550,000). An internal inquiry found many improprieties in allocations of funds during that campaign.

Hadashot said the evidence it had gathered pointed to systematic corruption, not towards a party or group, but to further the career of a single politician.

In response to the report, Danon said that he was not given enough time to refute all the claims. He insisted that he had done nothing wrong and that the report was a targeted piece to defame him. He touted his achievements in promoting Zionism, both while in Israel and now as UN ambassador.

The WZO said that all the claims were false and baseless. It said that as an organization, it has received praise from across the political spectrum, and that its employees include members of Labor, Meretz, Jewish Home and other political parties.

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