Reports: IDF spokesman-to-be wore wire for police in Yisrael Beytenu graft case

Reports: IDF spokesman-to-be wore wire for police in Yisrael Beytenu graft case

Gil Messing, tapped to take over as military flack, secretly recorded his friend, Ronen Moshe, leading to his indictment, as well as then-foreign minister Avigdor Liberman

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

Gil Messing, who was tapped to take over as IDF spokesperson, in an undated photograph. (Sigal Naftali Kessel/Israel Defense Forces)
Gil Messing, who was tapped to take over as IDF spokesperson, in an undated photograph. (Sigal Naftali Kessel/Israel Defense Forces)

Gil Messing, who was named as the Israeli military’s next spokesperson this week, acted as a police agent during the Yisrael Beytenu corruption investigation in 2015, secretly recording his friend and fellow spokesman, Ronen Moshe, as well as then-foreign minister Avigdor Liberman, according to Hebrew media reports Wednesday.

The Haaretz newspaper revealed Messing’s role in the graft probe on Tuesday, publishing partial transcripts from the secretly recorded conversation with Moshe from January 2015, which were later used in his indictment and conviction.

On Wednesday, the Ynet news site reported that Messing had also surreptitiously recorded a number of other officials in the investigation against the Yisrael Beytenu party, including its head, Liberman.

According to the Ynet report, it was not clear if Liberman was the target of Messing’s efforts on behalf of the police. In any case, no evidence of criminal wrongdoing by Liberman was found.

Yisrael Beytenu party leader Avigdor Liberman speaks at a press conference in Tel Aviv on March 19, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

The Yisrael Beytenu leader is now involved in coalition negotiations with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that may see him again appointed to the position of defense minister, which would make him Messing’s boss.

On Monday, IDF chief Aviv Kohavi announced he was appointing Messing as the next spokesperson for the Israel Defense Forces, succeeding Brig. Gen. Ronen Manelis, who currently holds the position.

In a statement, the military said Wednesday that Kohavi had not known of Messing’s involvement in the Yisrael Beytenu case before the Haaretz report.

“Following the publication, the matter was reviewed by the relevant figures in law enforcement. From this review, it was found that Messing was never a suspect in the case and that there has never been a shred of a doubt about his conduct in this regard,” the IDF said.

The State’s Attorney’s Office confirmed that Messing had not been a suspect in the investigation. Messing, who said he acted out of civic duty, called for his confidentiality agreement with police to be rescinded so that more information could come out about his role in the case.

Moshe’s attorneys have requested access to Messing’s files and to other pieces of information connected to his previously unknown role in their client’s conviction.

The three-year investigation centered around Yisrael Beytenu, known as Case 242, is one of the most far-reaching public corruption cases in Israel’s history. The sprawling investigation revealed allegations of a widespread kickback scheme involving national and local politicians, as well as non-governmental organizations and private firms.

It became public in December 2014 with the arrest of 36 serving and former officials. The arrests came about four months before the 2015 election, which saw Yisrael Beytenu shrink to six seats, leading to accusations by party officials that it amounted to a political witch hunt.

Former tourism minister Stas Misezhnikov in court on Wednesday, December 24, 2014 (FLASH90)

The most prominent public official to be felled by the probe was former tourism minister and Yisrael Beytenu lawmaker Stas Misezhnikov, who began serving a 15-month prison term in October after he was convicted of attempting to secure employment for his romantic partner in 2012 by funding a student festival in Eilat using ministry funds.

Among those arrested in late 2014 and early 2015 was Amnon Lieberman, a friend of Messing, who subsequently turned state’s witness.

Messing, a director of communications for the Strauss food manufacturer at the time, was allowing Lieberman to stay at his home while he testified to police.

During this time, police asked Messing to meet and record his friend Ronen Moshe, who served as a spokesman for Yisrael Betyenu, according to Haaretz.

The two met for coffee in central Tel Aviv on January 14, 2015. During the meeting, Moshe acknowledged that he had been “dragged into this” corruption and revealed other details that were later used in his indictment and conviction.

Moshe was found guilty of corruption and money laundering in November 2017, alongside Tali Keidar, a former adviser to Misezhnikov, who was found guilty of bribery.

Messing’s appointment was approved by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who also serves as defense minister.

Messing currently serves as head of global corporate communications for the technology company Check Point. He is due to take over as spokesman in the coming months, the army said.

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