Veteran MK Binyamin “Fuad” Ben-Eliezer (Labor Party), one of the leading candidates for the state presidency and a former defense minister and Labor party chief, frequented a number of top London casinos while serving in top government positions, Channel 2 reported Wednesday.
According to investigative reporting program “Uvda,” Ben-Eliezer possessed membership cards in five different casinos including the three lucrative and highly exclusive clubs 50 St. James, Palm Beach Casino and Crockfords. A membership card for each of these establishments, considered to be very discreet, costs around £1,000 (approx. $1,700 today).
According to the report Ben-Eliezer visited the casinos between 1999-2002, during which time he served as deputy prime minister, communications minister, housing minister and defense minister.
When asked if he had visited London casinos Ben-Eliezer initially told Uvda “never in all my life” and “it never happened,” moments later amending this to say “I did go once but for dinner. I sat to eat dinner there… at some place I was invited to, I don’t even remember where.”
Only when the show confronted him over the course of several phone calls with the membership cards it had found from the various casinos bearing his name did he admit to visiting them, but always insisting that he had only been there for dinner, and had not engaged in gambling.
A spokesman for Ben-Eliezer told the program the former minister “has a large family in London and visiting casino restaurants is considered legitimate activity. Entrance to the restaurant necessitates a membership card.”
“Ben-Eliezer did not gamble while a guest at the casinos,” the spokesman stressed.
Gambling is illegal in Israel and is only permitted through government sanctioned bodies such as the national lottery and the Pais sports lottery. There are no casinos in the country.
The report may hurt Ben-Eliezer’s chances to be chosen for the presidency by the Knesset. He has been considered a leading candidate behind current favorite Reuven Rivlin (Likud) who also ran against incumbent Shimon Peres in the previous round in 2007.
Ben-Eliezer is not the first presidential contender to receive a blow to his candidacy in the weeks leading up to the election of Israel’s next president, expected to take place in June. Former leading candidate National Infrastructures Minister Silvan Shalom (Likud) recently faced a public accusation that he sexually assaulted a woman who worked under him 15 years ago when he served as science minister.
Even though the police advised that the investigation against Shalom be closed, Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein on Wednesday instructed police officials to carry out a full investigation into claims against Shalom and try to get the cooperation of women who were allegedly assaulted by him.
Police have found little evidence to support the claims against the Likud minister so far, but even if the case should be closed, the damage may have already been done.
Shimon Peres ends his seven-year term as president in July.
Update: The allegations against Shalom were not substantiated and the investigation was subsequently closed.