Prosecutors to former Labor leader: Pay NIS 11m and avoid jail

Binyamin Ben-Eliezer insists he doesn’t have the cash; plea bargain sought due to ex-defense minister’s failing health

Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, May 27, 2014. (Flash90)
Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, May 27, 2014. (Flash90)

Prosecutors have offered a plea bargain in the bribery trial of former defense minister, Labor party leader and presidential candidate Binyamin Ben-Eliezer.

Ben-Eliezer was told he could avoid jail time in exchange for an NIS 11 million ($2.86 million) fine.

Ben-Eliezer, 80, is accused of demanding and receiving more than two million shekels ($500,000) from business people in exchange for decisions he allegedly made as a public servant. He is also accused of receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of foreign currencies that he kept hidden from tax authorities in safes in his home and a bank, apparently in violation of tax laws and transparency rules for Knesset members. The funds were purportedly used to buy real estate, including an apartment in Jaffa.

The plea bargain proposal, revealed Monday by Channel 10 News, is aimed at punishing the octogenarian without forcing him to serve time in prison.

The former lawmaker has suffered from various health issues for a number of years, and in December 2014 underwent a kidney transplant. Several months later, he was hospitalized with a serious case of influenza, during which he was hooked up to life support. In February, the court granted him permission to be absent from hearings in his case due to his deteriorating condition.

Then-presidential candidate Reuven Rivlin seen with former presidential candidate and then-MK Binyamin Ben-Eliezer in the Knesset during presidential elections, Tuesday, June 10, 2014. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Then-presidential candidate Reuven Rivlin seen with former presidential candidate and then-MK Binyamin Ben-Eliezer in the Knesset during presidential elections, Tuesday, June 10, 2014. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Channel 10 said the prosecution might cancel the bribery charges in order to enable a no-prison deal.

But negotiations with Ben-Eliezer’s attorneys have reportedly stalled, as Ben-Eliezer claims he neither has nor can raise the NIS 11 million, a sum corresponding to the sum total of the fines owed for the alleged bribes he received, plus taxes incurred, Channel 10 reported.

The criminal proceedings against him began when then-attorney general Yehuda Weinstein in January 2015 accepted a police recommendation to indict the politician and 10 of his associates.

Police said a six-month investigation in 2014 uncovered evidence Ben-Eliezer had accepted funds from businessmen for unspecified financial favors in 2006, when he served as infrastructures minister. He is also accused of laundering money using the bank accounts of relatives.

Police also investigated a separate $350,000 payment from a relative, and alleged improprieties relating to other large sums of money.

Abraham Nanikashvili (Facebook)
Abraham Nanikashvili (Facebook)

Businessmen Abraham Nanikashvili and Jacky Ben-Zaken, as well as Ben-Eliezer’s former bureau chief Ayelet Azoulay, were among the 10 suspects.

Ben-Eliezer’s attorneys last year attempted to reach a settlement in the case without going to trial, citing his poor health, but Weinstein rejected the request.

In December 2014, the politician announced he would leave politics to focus on his health and clearing his name, ending a 30-year political career.

The probe had already prompted the veteran MK to end his candidacy for Israel’s presidency in June 2014, three days before the election.

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