'Dramatic Development' in Yisrael Beiteinu Graft Probe

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Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.Credit: Emil Salman

At a hearing on Thursday over a request to extend the period of detention of several of the suspects in the case of alleged corruption involving officials in the Yisrael Beiteinu party, Rishon Letzion Magistrate’s Court judge Menahem Mizrahi stated that there had been a dramatic development in the investigation that could lead to a widening of the probe.

Immediately following the court session, the police issued another gag order in the case, barring the disclosure of the details regarding the new development to which the judge referred. From the tenor of the hearing, however, it could be understood that there was new evidence that was only obtained on Thursday evening around 5:30 P.M.

“An examination of the documents shows that in the course of the investigation there has certainly been a dramatic development,” the judge wrote in his decision extending the detention of Megilot Dead Sea regional council head Mordechai Dahan and lobbyist Yisrael Yehoshua until Monday, adding that the development had just surfaced.

Dozens of public officials have been detained in connection with the broader police investigation, involving suspicions of illegal payment of funds to certain organizations, money laundering, granting improper personal favors, bribery and improper promotions allegedly provided to associates. The suspects include Yisrael Beiteinu Knesset member and Deputy Interior Minister Faina Kirshenbaum and fellow party member and former Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov.

The new information was obtained by investigators late Thursday via one of the suspects in the case and apparently it may shed light on additional illegal activity and give investigators information about any money trail that the alleged bribery funds purportedly took. Judge Mizrahi stated that the new evidence is relevant to other suspects who had been released from custody adding that some had been let go before the new development in the case.

Investigators have information about other cases related to the corruption investigation at additional government ministries and within various local government authorities. The suspicions also allegedly lead to other senior officials in Yisrael Beiteinu but not as far as the party’s chairman, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.

On Thursday evening, Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein rejected Lieberman’s contention that the disclosure of the corruption investigation allegedly involving Yisrael Beitenu was timed to hurt the party in Knesset elections scheduled for March 17. “There is nothing further from the truth from this. The law enforcement system and all of its branches is blind to political considerations,” Weinstein asserted. “It is unable to differentiate among parties. It is unable to differentiate among candidates.”

Such allegations, Weinstein told a legal conference in Haifa, were “nonsense” and provided his explanation as to why the existence of the investigation of the case was made public at this time. “First of all, the standard default at the direction of the attorney general is that criminal proceedings continue as normal during an election period. You will be surprised to discover that I too am careful about acting in accordance with the attorney general’s instructions,” he said wryly.

“Secondly, the timing of the transition to public investigation was planned—what can one do?—before the elections were declared. Thirdly, the existence of the investigation began to leak out and there was concern over its disclosure, over interference with the investigation that it involved. Fourthly, we are at the end of the budget year [which ended on December 31], a period during which substantial sums of money were about to be transferred through means that we uncovered in the investigation. Fifthly, an additional consideration that we faced was the right of the public to know and the desire not to have the information, some of which relates to elected officials, hidden from the public during an election period.”

“It seems to me,” Weinstein continued, “that it is actually the opposite decision, delaying the course of the investigation, contrary to the attorney general’s instruction, that would be liable to be construed as improper interference in the election process,” he said. “It was the timing of the elections that surprised the investigation and not the investigation that surprised the elections.”

At the request of the national police fraud squad the court released a number of the suspects in the case on Thursday on conditions that included ten days of house arrest. The released suspects included Yisrael Beiteinu chief of staff David Godovsky; Samaria regional council head Gershon Mesika; Agriculture Ministry director general Rami Cohen; anti-drug authority director general Yair Geller and businessman Tzion Zuaretz. Others were also released under specific limitations.

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