MK Ben-Eliezer Submits Witness Statement in Graft Case

Benjamin Ben-Eliezer's campaign for president was brought to a halt by corruption allegations concerning Shemen Oil controlling shareholder.

MK Benjamin Ben-Eliezer at a Labor faction meeting in May 2014.
MK Benjamin Ben-Eliezer at a Labor faction meeting in May 2014. Emil Salman

MK Benjamin Ben-Eliezer (Labor), whose campaign for president was brought to a halt earlier this month by corruption allegations, has submitted a witness statement as part of a tax case involving an Israeli businessman suspected of giving Ben-Eliezer hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The case, held in the Be’er Sheva District Court, focuses on Avraham Nanikashvili, a controlling shareholder of Shemen Oil who is appealing income tax assessments for 2005 and 2007, when he says he was not a resident of Israel. One piece of evidence in the case is a witness statement signed by Ben-Eliezer.

Nanikashvili, who was arrested recently on suspicion of involvement in corruption at Ashdod Port, was also questioned about fund transfers to Ben-Eliezer and his associates.

According to the allegations, $400,000 were allegedly transferred as a loan in 2011; in another case, the funds were transferred directly from a bank account connected to Nanikashvili to one connected to Ben-Eliezer. But the MK’s statement “makes no mention of any loan whatsoever that was given to Ben-Eliezer by Nanikashvili,” according to the minutes of the hearing.

Police are also investigating fund transfers to Ben-Eliezer’s relatives, as are the circumstances under which Ben-Eliezer cashed about $250,000, which allegedly came from Nanikashvili, at the shop of a foreign-currency change dealer.

Ben-Eliezer and Nanikashvili are considered close friends. Ben-Eliezer was the guest of honor at several small family parties given by the Nanikashvili family, while Nanikashvili visited Ben-Eliezer frequently when he was in the hospital after a life-threatening bout of the flu in 2011. Ben-Eliezer is very close to Jacky Ben-Zaken, considered Nanikashvili’s “protege” in Ashdod. In late 2007, for example, Ben-Eliezer, who was then minister of industry, trade and labor, was spotted at the bar mitzvah party for Ben-Zaken’s son, which was held at the David Intercontinental Hotel in Tel Aviv.