Shas veteran named as former MK held on bribe-taking suspicions
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Shas veteran named as former MK held on bribe-taking suspicions

Amnon Cohen suspected of receiving money, sexual favors in return for pushing business mogul’s agenda in Knesset

Raoul Wootliff is the The Times of Israel's political correspondent.

Former Shas MK Amnon Cohen in 2013. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Former Shas MK Amnon Cohen in 2013. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Former Shas MK Amnon Cohen was named Thursday as the ex-lawmaker arrested on suspicion of accepting bribes from a businessman, including sexual favors, in return for advancing his business interests in parliament.

Cohen, who served in the Knesset between 1999 and 2015 and was once given a commendation from Israel’s Movement for Quality Government, is suspected of bribery, fraud and breach of trust, according to police.

He was questioned under caution Wednesday before a court ordered he be held for a further five days of interrogation, police said in a statement.

“The national police detained for questioning this morning a former Knesset member over suspicions that while serving he received bribes from a businessman, including favors of a sexual nature, in return for pushing through issues related to his business interests,” a police statement said Wednesday, announcing his arrest.

Cohen was unavailable to comment on the accusations. His lawyer, Jacob Weinroth, did not immediately reply to a request for a response.

Cohen’s identity was initially kept under wraps due to a court-imposed gag order. The Rishon Lezion Magistrate’s Court rejected a request and a further appeal to him keep his name from being published, lifting the order at 2 p.m Thursday.

The Lod District Court was set to decide Thursday afternoon whether to extend Cohen’s remand beyond the previously authorized five days.

Former MK Amnon Coehn appearing at the Rishon Lezion Magistrate's Court, December 7, 2016. (Screenshot: Walla)
Former MK Amnon Coehn appearing at the Rishon Lezion Magistrate’s Court, December 7, 2016. (Screenshot: Walla)

The decision to question Amnon was made due to “an operational consideration that allowed for a development,” according to the statement, which said the investigation was partially the fruit of a piece broadcast by Channel 2’s investigative news magazine “Uvda.”

In March, “Uvda” claimed that the former Shas party member had been on the payroll of a stock market broker for 10 years, during which time he received large sums of money to advance the broker’s interests in the legislature. Lawyers for the ex-MK denied the allegations at the time.

The report said that Cohen received regular payments from prominent broker and investment adviser Daniel Molkandov and in return made use of his position, including as a member of the Knesset’s Finance Committee, to remove regulatory hurdles from the stock market and from Molkandov.

Molkandov told the program the two had an agreement: When Cohen wanted money, he would text him “Can I come and water the plants?” The two would meet in an apartment in the town of Ness Ziona, south of Tel Aviv, to make the exchange.

Molkandov said the two initially met at a 2003 event for Jews of Bukharian descent.

It was the Shas member of Knesset who then cultivated the ties between the two, he recounted, and repeatedly contacted him seeking meetings.

“He kept complaining about the salary of Knesset members, that nothing is left [of it] and that the expenses are high,” Molkandov told “Uvda.” The MK told him he had been forced to take out loans from unscrupulous sources. “Every meeting, he would mention this to me until I couldn’t take it anymore. I took out 200 or 300 shekels in bills — it was small change for me — and gave it to him. That’s how it started.”

Molkandov also alleged that during an official parliamentary visit to Belarus in 2007, Cohen requested that he find a female escort for him. “You know Belarus, Daniel,” Molkandov recounted the MK’s words to him. “Can you arrange something for me here? I’m alone in the room, it’s boring.”

Daniel Molkandov on Channel 2's Uvda (Channel 2 screen capture)
Daniel Molkandov on Channel 2’s ‘Uvda’ (screen capture: Channel 2)

“[I made] some calls… a ‘friend’ came over to him… to his room, in the hotel,” Molkandov said. The same woman was later flown to Israel for a second rendezvous with Cohen at a Dead Sea hotel.

When Molkandov was arrested in 2005 on suspicion of charging his clients rates higher than those permitted by law, Cohen allegedly pushed to improve the terms of his incarceration. Molkandov was later sentenced to 20 months in prison, and was visited by Cohen during his imprisonment.

The program aired recordings of several conversations between Cohen and Molkandov. In one such recording Molkandov discusses the money he gave the Knesset member, a claim Cohen does not appear to deny.

The ties between the two soured in late 2014 over financial disputes. Molkandov demanded then that Cohen repay his debts to him.

“Uvda” reported that Cohen’s abrupt announcement, shortly before the 2015 general election, that he was leaving political life, was brought about by pressure from top Shas officials, who had caught whiff of his illicit dealings with Molkandov. However, he was soon afterwards appointed to head The Standards Institution of Israel, which oversees product quality, a position he continues to hold.

Molkandov testified against Cohen to police in late 2015, but the allegations were not pursued.

Cohen’s lawyers denied the allegations aired on “Uvda,” saying on Channel 2 that Molkandov had attempted to blackmail the former MK and had cooked the tapes obtained by the program. “This is a manipulative man who will stop at nothing to achieve his sordid goals,” they said.

They noted that police had already reviewed Molkandov’s claims against Cohen and had found no evidence to merit an investigation. They claimed Cohen had passed a polygraph test in which he said he had never received money from Molkandov.

An independent polygraph test of Molkandov by “Uvda” found that he, too, appeared to be telling the truth.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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