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Yesterday, two days before Yom Kippur, the former chief of defunct construction company Heftsiba, Boaz Yona, asked the thousands of people who suffered from his theft and fraud to forgive him.

According to a plea bargain, subject to the Jerusalem District Court's approval, Yona is to be sentenced to seven years in prison, receive an additional suspended sentence, and pay a fine of NIS 4 million to the company's victims. The money would be raised by his friends and associates.

"I look in the eyes of the victims and say: I failed, I have erred, and I ask for forgiveness," Yona told the court, addressing the victims of the company's collapse a year ago, who lost their money after buying apartments from him.

He asked Judge Moshe Ravid and, for one confusing moment, seemed to be appealing to heaven as well. He expressed the hope that his apology would be accepted, not just heard.

Heftsiba crumbled overnight in early August 2007, leaving hundreds of homeowners empty-handed and Yona overseas with, allegedly, more than NIS 100 million in money stolen from the company. The former CEO and controlling shareholder was later extradited to Israel from Italy and signed a plea bargain.

But 26-year-old Mali Siruta, a victim of Yona's theft, fraud and conspiracy to commit other violations, was not so easily assuaged. "We are believing people," she said outside the courthouse. "On Yom Kippur we are mandated to forgive one another. But this Yom Kippur we won't forget and we won't forgive."

Her friend, 30-year-old Ofra Shuraki, from Har Homa, could also not be consoled. "My father is a religious man," she told Yona during one recess. "I paid you money, right? I bought an apartment, NIS 85,000. I took out a 25-year mortgage. Please, give me back the money. Don't make me a slave my entire life," she said.

Later, she addressed him quietly. "They told me it was a big company, that there was nothing to worry about," she said. "Believe me, I understand," Yona answered. "You don't understand," she said. "Tell me where the money is." Yona had no answer.

Attorney Yitzhak Molcho, who handled the arrangements for victims with the banks, asked the court to divert part of the sum to between 50 and 100 of 4,650 families who were victims of the company's collapse. Molcho described their situation as dire, but Yona pledged he was on the case.

"We will keep working right down to the last apartment buyer," Yona told the court. I have sworn that that's what I'll do, and I'm willing to answer for it."

He told the court that he had done everything possible to prevent the company's collapse. "My ardent wish to prevent the collapse with my body and soul, in any way possible, was out of a feeling of obligation to my clients, even if they don't think so," he said as he looked at Shuraki and her friends.

The judge, however, did not appear convinced. Yona's lawyer Yair Golan argued that Yona had not sought to defraud the tenants, but had taken money from one tenant and invested it in another. "This is not fraud? This is fraud!" Judge Ravid responded.