Top basketball official charged in sprawling Yisrael Beytenu graft case

Moshe Kaliski, former head of Maccabi Rishon Lezion, accused of funneling money to ex-deputy minister in kickback scheme

Raoul Wootliff is a former Times of Israel political correspondent and Daily Briefing podcast producer.

Suspects in the 'Case 242' corruption investigation at their first remand hearing after being arrested, December 25, 2014. (Flash90)
Suspects in the 'Case 242' corruption investigation at their first remand hearing after being arrested, December 25, 2014. (Flash90)

A senior sports official who once headed the Maccabi Rishon Lezion basketball team was indicted Sunday on bribery and fraud charges linked to a massive corruption investigation into a number of Yisrael Beytenu party officials.

Moshe Kaliski, who has served as chair of the second-tier Israel Basketball National League and as a senior member of both the Israel Basketball Association and the Israel Handball Association, will face charges for receiving bribes, falsifying documents, money laundering, obstructing justice and other financial felonies, the state prosecution said Sunday.

Last month, former deputy interior minister Faina Kirshenbaum and nine other officials linked to Yisrael Beytenu were indicted for a litany of corruption charges, including bribery, fraud and money laundering.

Deputy Interior Minister Faina Kirshenbaum at a Knesset Finance Committee meeting, May 19, 2014 (Hadas Parush/Flash 90)

According to Sunday’s indictment filed with the Tel Aviv District Court, Kaliski used connections with Kirshenbaum to secure half a million shekels ($143,000) for the Israel Handball Association, despite it not being eligible for such funding.

As part of the deal, he allegedly received NIS 180,000 for himself, which he falsely billed to a printing company he owned at the time.

In return, Kaliski helped provide Kirshenbaum with funds, which she received for personal use, from the Jordan Valley local sports council, where he had a number of connections, the state prosecution said.

The indictments come after a two-year investigation centered around the party, known as Case 242, in one of the most far-reaching public corruption cases in Israel’s history.

Kirshenbaum, who stepped down as deputy interior minister in early 2015 shortly after news of the suspicions against her was published, is being charged with bribery, breach of trust, fraud, money laundering and tax evasion and sits at the center of some 10 separate corruption cases. According to the August indictment against her, Kirshenbaum “acted willfully and intentionally, at times with great sophistication, in order to carry out a series of crimes.”

The prosecution said she made use of her position as deputy minister in order to embezzle funds, estimated at millions of dollars.

To date, 11 people in total, among them top former local politicians and party officials, have been charged with a range of financial felonies, and a number of other public officials are expected to face charges in the coming weeks, including former Yisrael Beytenu minister Stas Misezhnikov.

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

“This is one of the biggest public corruption investigations that have been uncovered in Israel, from the point of view of both the complexity and sophistication of the method, and the breadth of the activities and the number of people involved,” the Justice Ministry said.

The investigation, which was made public in December 2014 with the arrest of 36 serving and former officials, including Kaliski, was first exposed due to suspicions of fraudulent dealing with the Israel Basketball Association.

In March 2013, Kirshenbaum attended the finals of the national women’s basketball league, giving pause to Shaul Eisenberg, a member of the Israel Basketball Association board, who wondered what she was doing there, he told police.

Eisenberg was told at the time that Kirshenbaum planned to donate money to the IBA, he later related to police. Around the same time, then-IBA chairman Avner Kopel announced that he had secured a NIS 1 million ($286,000) donation to the association.

When Eisenberg later investigated the money’s source, he found an odd note in the books: Around NIS 100,000 had been transferred to a woman, Batya Cohen, the wife of Agriculture Ministry director general Rami Cohen, a Yisrael Beytenu man.

Eisenberg said he was told this sum was a “commission” awarded to Cohen for helping secure the donation to the IBA. Suspecting something untoward was afoot, he went to the police in August 2013 to notify them of his findings.

Rami and Batya Cohen were both charged last month with bribery offenses, fraud, forgery, falsifying corporate documents and obstruction of justice.

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