Police to recommend charges against Israel’s richest woman
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Police to recommend charges against Israel’s richest woman

Officers say Shari Arison and executives of her construction firm had ‘culture of bribery’ in payoffs to African countries

US-Israeli businesswoman Shari Arison seen leaving a police investigation at the Lahav 433 serious crime unit, in Lod, August 12, 2018. (Flash90)
US-Israeli businesswoman Shari Arison seen leaving a police investigation at the Lahav 433 serious crime unit, in Lod, August 12, 2018. (Flash90)

Police and the Israel Securities Authority said Sunday they have sufficient evidence of wrongdoing to recommend bribery charges against executives at Israel’s largest construction and development company, including its former chairwoman, billionaire Shari Arison.

The Lahav 433 special investigations unit wrapped up a year-long investigation of hundreds of millions of shekels in bribes allegedly paid by the Shikun & Binui company to public officials in several African countries in order to win lucrative building projects.

“There is substantial evidence against Shikun & Binui Company Ltd. and against a number of senior employees,” a police statement said.

Arison, who sold her controlling interest in Shikun & Binui last year, was one of 50 company executives questioned by police in the affair. The main investigation centered in Kenya with the cooperation of that country’s national anti-corruption unit.

Illustrative: The offices of Israel Police’s Lahav 433 Unit in Lod. (Israel Police)

Last August, Arison was questioned by police for nine hours about her involvement in the case. Arison and one of her senior advisers were released but barred from leaving the country or contacting anyone connected to the investigation.

Shikun & Binui did $1.8 billion in business in 2018 and has 9,700 employees who build major projects in Israel and abroad. Police said Sunday that they took testimony from 34 witnesses in the sprawling international investigation.

The suspicions were sweeping and involved “bribery of a foreign public worker, falsification of corporate documents, conspiracy to commit a crime, disruption of legal proceedings, prohibition of money laundering and misleading reporting offenses with the aim of misleading a reasonable investor under the Securities Law,” the police statement said.

The payoffs were so extensive that police say there is no way that senior management was unaware of what was going on, Channel 12 news reported.

Arison’s 2018 interrogation came only two months after she sold her controlling stake in Shikun & Binui to US-Israeli real estate investor Naty Saidoff for NIS 1.1 billion ($307 million), a price some 14% lower than the stock value, which traders attributed to the bribery suspicions.

Arison, who held shares in Shikun & Binui for 22 years before the sale, said the move was part of a strategy to diversify investments globally. However, shares of the construction firm declined almost 23% in the 12 months before she sold, as the company grappled with the bribery investigation.

Police said the case will now be passed to the Attorney General’s Office for review and a decision on whether to prosecute.

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