Israeli Finance Minister Kahlon Advanced Friend's Business Interests While He Was MK

New finance minister may have recused himself from gas monopoly over potential conflict of interest, but ex-minister says MK Kahlon has lobbied on behalf of Kobi Maimon before.

Gil Cohen-Magen

Despite recusing himself from the gas monopoly talks due to his ties with Kobi Maimon, Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon did allegedly help the businessman advance his real-estate interests after Kahlon became an MK, Haaretz has learned.

Ahead of the Likud primaries at the end of 2002, Maimon – co-owner of Nitsba Holdings and Airport City, and now a partner in the Tamar offshore gas field – allegedly took it upon himself to get two close friends in the Likud Central Committee elected to the party’s Knesset ticket: Haim Katz, head of the Israel Aerospace Industries workers union; and Kahlon.

Kahlon later told TheMarker about Maimon’s help: “Kobi and I have been very good friends for about 10 years, even before I was elected an MK. Naturally, I presume that if he knew any registered Likud members, he asked them to support me as an act of friendship.”

A senior Likud figure said this week that during Ariel Sharon’s second government (2003-2006), Maimon told him he wanted to increase his influence in the ruling party. “He said he’d been screwed before because he didn’t have government backing,” the source told Haaretz.

At that time, a company owned by Maimon launched the Airport City real estate project, consisting of selling and leasing out structures and areas intended for high-tech, commerce, storage, industry and hotels at the eastern entrance to Ben-Gurion International Airport.

MK Kahlon met with then-Interior Minister Avraham Poraz – whose Shinui party was in the coalition with Likud – in a bid to advance Maimon’s interests in the project.

“The planners had decided to build a road adjacent to the project, while the entrepreneur wanted the road away from the project,” Poraz told Haaretz this week.

“Kahlon explained to me with a map why the planners’ decision didn’t make sense. It was perfectly clear he was associated with the project’s entrepreneur. He made no effort to conceal it,” claimed Poraz.

“After the meeting, I spoke to the planners and they said they were concerned that in the future the entrepreneur will act to use the enclave between the project and the road to expand the project – a move potentially worth tens or hundreds of millions,” Poraz said.

An official who worked in the Interior Ministry at the time confirmed this week that the ministry had objected to the entrepreneur’s plans for this very reason.

On the eve of the recent election, after pledging to fight the monopolies, Kahlon was asked by Channel 2 News’ Yonit Levi if his relations with Maimon would interfere with his handling of the gas monopoly. “What’s one thing got to do with the other?” Kahlon asked. “I’ll deal with both of them ... natural gas is a monopoly and must be broken up.”

But immediately after the election, with his new Kulanu party claiming 10 seats, Kahlon announced he was passing his authority regarding the gas monopoly to the prime minister due to his friendship with Maimon, citing a conflict of interest.

The finance minister’s office said that the minister doesn’t remember the incident, “which, according to Haaretz, took place some 12 years ago.

“Throughout his years as an elected official, the minister has represented the public’s positions on many issues, with only the public’s interest at heart The minister’s overall decisions in representing the public’s positions speak for themselves,” his office said.