Haaretz probe: Unknown overseas sources paid Lieberman NIS 2.5m
Yisrael Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman earned more than NIS 2.5 million as a salaried employee of his daughter's company from 2004-2006, Haaretz has learned. During this time, he was neither a Knesset member nor a minister.
Yesterday, police detained seven Lieberman associates, including his daughter Michal and his attorney, Yoav Many, for questioning. They are suspected of conspiring to funnel money from an as yet unknown source or sources to Lieberman.
Police suspect Lieberman of money laundering, fraud and breach of trust. Sources in the national fraud squad said yesterday that the evidence gathered against Lieberman in recent months was far more serious and substantial than anything that has been previously published.
Yesterday's police action was made possible by a court decision last year to allow investigators to examine thousands of documents that Lieberman had deposited with Many. The court rejected the claim that these documents were protected by attorney-client privilege.
According to information obtained by Haaretz, between 2004 and 2007 the company headed by Michal Lieberman, M.L. 1, received NIS 11 million from anonymous sources overseas for "business consulting." During the years 2004-06, while he was not in politics, Lieberman received a salary of over NIS 2.5 million from the company.
Michal Lieberman is listed as CEO and sole shareholder of this company. However, police believe she was serving as a front for her father.
Police said that Avigdor Lieberman was likely to be questioned in the case in the coming days.
Yesterday, the Tel Aviv Magistrate's Court remanded three of the suspects for five days: Many, who is also Yisrael Beiteinu's lawyer; Sharon Shalom, a dentist who heads the party's campaign on civilian issues; and Andy Byunagio, who is suspected of helping to launder millions of shekels, some of which ultimately found their way to Lieberman via shell companies. Michal Lieberman and the other three suspects were confined to house arrest for five days.
Police also raided some of the suspects' houses and offices yesterday and seized various documents.
Police Superintendent Assaf Wallfish told the court that Lieberman and Many are suspected of heading the alleged conspiracy which, he said, was active "until yesterday." Many is also suspected of having received some of the laundered money, he noted.
In addition, the three remanded yesterday are suspected of trying to obstruct the investigation and suborn potential witnesses.
Many, the attorney, refused to cooperate with the police, saying his actions were protected by attorney-client privilege.
Because yesterday's raid occurred just two weeks before elections, police obtained prior approval for the search from Attorney General Menachem Mazuz and State Prosecutor Moshe Lador. Police sources denied there was any political motive in the timing and said that until yesterday's court hearing they had not even been aware that Many and Shalom filled key posts in Yisrael Beiteinu's campaign.
However, this failed to satisfy attorneys for the suspects. "How can you shut down a party's campaign staff 15 days before the election?" demanded Shalom's lawyer, Micha Pettman.
Lieberman himself, in contrast, hinted that the police action might help his campaign.
"In 1999, until two weeks before the election they said our party would not cross the electoral threshold," he told a campaign rally in Upper Nazareth. "But two weeks before the election, they opened an investigation against us for tax evasion and we wound up receiving four seats. We are on the right track and today we received additional proof that we are on the right track."
He then joked that as a conservative party, Yisrael Beiteinu liked to uphold tradition and was consequently relieved to discover that in this election, too, "the tradition has been honored: There is an investigation."
A senior legal official said that yesterday's raid had been necessitated by fear that waiting would allow the suspects' efforts to obstruct the investigation to bear fruit.
But another Lieberman attorney, Yaron Kostelits, argued that police received the documents that led to the raid more than six months ago, so there was no justification for waiting until two weeks before the election.
The current investigation has been in progress for almost three years and is expected to continue for some time. On January 15, when Haaretz asked the Justice Ministry why the probe was taking so long, it was told that "additional material was recently received, which necessitated a continuation of the investigation." The probe has been further complicated by its international nature, encompassing countries from Cyprus to Ukraine.