Israel Police to Charge Dozens of Yisrael Beiteinu Officials for Fraud

Suspects include former Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov, former Deputy Interior Minister Faina Kirshenbaum and several present and former public officials.

Former Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov in court, 2014.
Nir Keidar

The Israel Police National Fraud Investigation Unit said yesterday that it has enough evidence to bring charges against 36 suspects following a wide-ranging probe into corruption charges that centered on members of the Yisrael Beiteinu party.

The suspects include former Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov, former Deputy Interior Minister Faina Kirshenbaum, Tamar Regional Council head Dov Litvinoff, Yisrael Beiteinu chief of staff David Godovsky, former Israel National Roads Company general manager Shay Baras, former Mekorot Water Company chairman Alex Wiznitzer, lobbyist Yisrael Yehoshua, Agriculture Ministry director general Rami Cohen, Ayalim director Matan Dahan, Israel Anti-Drug Authority director Yair Geller, Kirshenbaum’s former parliamentary aide Victoria Rabin, former Tourism Ministry chief of staff Limor Barzilai, former head of the Samaria Development Corporation Haim Ben-Shushan, former chief of staff in the tourism and agriculture ministries Tali Keidar, and the chairman of the Local Government Economic Services company Shaul Mizrahi.

Insufficient evidence was found to support charges against Afula Mayor Yitzhak Meron, who was questioned under caution.

The national fraud unit is currently completing a complex investigation into allegations of public corruption, including the use of a systematic and organized mechanism for transferring state funds to a number of entities in return for benefits of different kinds. The investigation involves offenses such as bribery, fraud, breach of trust, money laundering, false registration and obstructing an investigation.

After a covert year-long investigation, during which the fraud unit worked on the intelligence, technological, operative and investigative levels to methodically collate information and evidence, which reinforced the suspicion that crimes were committed, in late December 2014 the unit launched an open investigation with the approval of Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein, who closely monitored its progress.

The open investigation consisted of several stages of extensive activity, including searches, seizures of thousands of documents, arrests and the questioning of 480 people – some under caution – including some elected public officials and senior public sector workers, from which more than 900 depositions were taken. To date, property and assets with an estimated value of NIS 25 million have been confiscated.

At the conclusion of the investigation, Maj. Gen. Meni Yitzhaki, head of the Investigations and Intelligence Division, accepted the view of the head of the Lahav 433 fraud investigation unit Maj. Gen. Roni Ritman and the investigative team that there was an evidentiary basis to bring charges against 36 suspects. Secret intelligence activity, which yielded significant evidence and extensive information concerning the suspects’ criminal activity, helped to induce cooperation from the suspects and, in an arduous, professional and complex process, to recruit them as state’s witnesses. This helped the investigators to collect high-quality evidence, expand the investigation and shed light on the methods used to defraud public coffers. (The identity, occupation and all other identifying details about the witnesses and their involvement are under a gag order).

Some of the people involved, including some high-ranking officials, were compelled to resign their public positions in light of the evidence collected against them.

The investigation’s findings and the evidence that’s been collected points to a systematic and carefully-designed pattern that was overseen by former MK and deputy minister Kirshenbaum and others who worked in close concert with her, to allocate state funds to different funded bodies, in return for some kind of benefit to the individual or political party, including the hiring of party activists and ordering that “consulting fees” be paid to associates. The exposure of the method halted the theft of public funds and prevented the transfer of funds to future projects.

The careful intelligence and investigative work carried out in this case revealed a modus operandi similar in many ways to what the police have found in fighting serious organized crime. The concealment, secrecy, manner of building the network of connections, cash payments, compartmentalization, fraud and deception all indicate deliberate and conscious participation by those involved.

In the coming days, the findings from the investigation will be delivered to the State Prosecution’s Economic Department for review.