Kirshenbaum Aide Arrested, Cops Say Misezhnikov Tried to Flee

Aide to key suspect in growing Yisrael Beiteinu party scandal detained for allegedly taking bribes; former tourism minister prevented by police from leaving Israel.

Emil Salman

An aide to Deputy Interior Minister Faina Kirshenbaum, the key suspect in the burgeoning Yisrael Beiteinu corruption scandal, was arrested yesterday on suspicion of taking bribes and disrupting the investigation. The aide, Victoria Rabin, is suspected of destroying documents a few days before the investigation became public.

It was revealed yesterday that former Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov, who was also arrested on Wednesday morning, attempted to leave Israel earlier in the week, but was prevented from doing so by the Israel Police.

Police yesterday extended the remands on several arrested suspects, including Yair Geller, head of the Anti-Drug Authority. Police suspect Kirshenbaum of transferring large sums of money to the Anti-Drug Authority, which is allocated state funds, and then got back at least part of the money or other benefits she demanded. One way of doing so was allegedly by acquiring advertising space in the Russian-language newspapers at a much higher price than it ordinarily cost. Geller was responsible for buying space in the newspapers for ads warning of the dangers of drugs.

Police are investigating the possibility that Kirshenbaum used Russian-language newspapers and polling companies, among other methods, to launder funds she received in the expanding bribery and money-laundering scandal involving numerous activists and members of the Yisrael Beiteinu party. Kirshenbaum allegedly demanded that the large sums of money she gave the authority be allocated for advertising in the Russian media.

Police are investigating whether the payment for the advertising space was inflated way beyond the price charged by other Russian-language papers. They suspect that part of the money ended up as cash in Kirshenbaum’s hands. They also suspect the money was used to buy favorable stories about Kirshenbaum and her party.

Kirshenbaum is also suspected of using public opinion polling companies for money. Among the suspects arrested in the scandal was Agriculture Ministry director-general Rami Cohen, it was revealed yesterday after a gag order was lifted.

Cohen’s remand was extended for eight days. His wife Batya was also arrested and subsequently released to house arrest for 10 days.

Cohen is suspected of giving Kirshenbaum bribes in 2010, as well as taking bribes while serving as director general of the Agriculture Ministry. Cohen is also suspected of using his position as director general to facilitate bribes between other officials.

Police say some 30 suspects illegally allocated funds to non-sanctioned organizations and laundered money through a shell company. They are also accused of granting personal favors and appointing cronies as well as engaging in bribery as middlemen for Kirshenbaum.