West Bank council head turns witness in bribery case

Gershon Mesika quits Samaria Regional Council after exposing alleged corruption attributed to ex-deputy minister Faina Kirshenbaum

Head of the Samaria Regional Council Gershon Mesika on February 7, 2014. (Hadas Parush/Flash 90)
Head of the Samaria Regional Council Gershon Mesika on February 7, 2014. (Hadas Parush/Flash 90)

Gershon Mesika, head of the Samaria Regional Council, was named a state’s witness on Thursday in an ongoing massive, high-level corruption scandal that has so far implicated senior current and former politicians, as well as dozens of other public officials.

Mesika, who stepped down from his position hours after he signed the deal, gave police information about funds that were transferred to senior officials, among them Faina Kirshenbaum, who stepped down as deputy interior minister in January, weeks after news of the investigation broke.

As part of the deal, the charges against Mesika will be significantly reduced and he will likely not serve time in prison, the Haaretz daily reported Thursday.

In a letter officially announcing his departure, Mesika thanked council residents for their support and said he would continue working for the development of the Samaria region. “That was, is and will remain my only priority,” he wrote.

Police said at the time that a year-long covert investigation revealed a labyrinthine system in which politicians funneled public funds and favors to local bodies and other groups, as well as their members, in exchange for kickbacks.

Suspects “conspired in a calculated manner to advance their personal and public interests and to receive money for personal use, while committing various crimes in a manner that significantly impeded the administration of their areas of governance,” police said in a statement at the time.

MK Faina Kirshenbaum at the Knesset, July 20, 2011. (photo credit: Omer Miron/Flash90)
Former deputy interior minister Faina Kirshenbaum at the Knesset, July 20, 2011. (Omer Miron/Flash90)

The investigation targeted a number of high-level officials in the Yisrael Beytenu party with only months to go before March’s general election, and party leader Avigdor Liberman accused police of an ongoing witch hunt against him.

Mesika is not suspected of taking bribes for personal use, but rather of tapping money garnered through the scheme for the use of the Samaria Regional Council, police said.

In audio recordings made public earlier this year, a former senior official in the council alleged that Kirshenbaum had transferred coalition funds to cover a NIS 70 million debt that a subsidiary of the council owed the Interior Ministry.

In exchange, Mesika allegedly transferred finances to people close to the former deputy minister.

“Faina transferred three million shekels to erase the loans,” Haim Ben Shoshan, the former head of the Samaria Development Company was heard saying in the recordings. “She transferred coalition funds to the finance [ministry], and they erased three and a half million [shekels].”

“Gershon [Mesika] drafted a letter: transfer a million and a half to John Doe, Jane Doe, and they would write up invoices for Faina’s people, under Gershon’s orders,” Ben Shoshan claimed.

Mesika is not the affair’s only state witness. Last month, police commissioner Yohanan Danino said at least six other witnesses were recruited. “I can’t remember any case with this many state witnesses,” he said.

Meanwhile, four members of Knesset who were also called in for questioning regarding the scandal have yet to appear before police having received a deferral until after the elections, which took place n March.


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