Disgraced former finance minister Abraham Hirchson told a Tel Aviv court on Tuesday that he is "ashamed and embarrassed" over charges of embezzling NIS 2.5 million from the National Workers Organization.
"I want to prove that every cent was earned properly, but not in this way in which I am now agonizing over," Hirchson said. "I am shamed and embarrassed about the way I received the money. I'm contemplating and asking myself ? why did I take the money in cash," he said.
MK Hirchson (Kadima) on Monday sent the union a check for NIS 1.16 million - the amount he admitted to having taken.
In a letter attached to the check, Hirchson said the cash he had received from the union had been part of his retirement package. He requested that an independent committee make a final calculation of his pension. He also reiterated his intention to submit an expert opinion proving that he was owed as a pension more than he took. Hirchson's associates estimate his total retirement package from the union at more than NIS 3 million.
Hirchson explained in the letter that in 1996, when a law barring Knesset members from receiving an additional salary went into effect, he stopped receiving wages from the union but served as its chairman until 2005. At that point, he said, he received only part of his accrued retirement benefits: a severance payment of NIS 680,778, and payment for unused vacation and sick days totaling NIS 296,159.
According to Hirchson, since he continued his work at the union, his final retirement benefits, including pension payments, was never calculated. But since he received neither a pension nor a salary for his work, between 2000 and 2005 he received monthly payments of NIS 25,000 as well as holiday bonuses, to be deducted from his pension. In his August 2008 response to the charge sheet, Hirchson explained that he received the money in cash because he feared that if it was reported, it would appear to be a second salary.
According to the indictment, Hirchson received NIS 1 million to NIS 1.2 million in monthly payments of NIS 25,000 from 2000 to 2005; holiday bonuses of NIS 10,000 to NIS 30,000 each, totaling NIS 160,000; NIS 500,000 to NIS 575,000 for travel abroad; and about NIS 600,000 to pay for his Likud primary campaigns in 1998 and 2002, in addition to "padded" reimbursements for travel expenses, medicines and thousands of shekels for meals in expensive restaurants.
In his August response, Hirchson admitted to receiving the monthly and holiday payments but denied the other charges.
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