Police found some 450,000 shekels cash (approximately $115,385) in the home of Agriculture Ministry director general Rami Cohen, in a raid about two and a half weeks ago. Cohen said that keeping the money at home is legitimate, and in fact, although he is now under arrest as a suspect in the Yisrael Beiteinu alleged corruption affair, it is not for the cash holding, but because of suspicions involving his actions as Agricultural Ministry director general and his ties to deputy Interior Minister Faina Kirshenbaum in the alleged graft scandal.
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Cohen, who before his Agriculture Ministry appointment was employed as a consultant by a number of bodies, including the National Roads Company, the Shomron Regional Council and the Government Tourist Corporation, for which he was paid hundreds of thousands of shekels. Cohen told police that he gave full services to every entity. However, police suspect he was given the various positions only thanks to his connections with senior Yisrael Beiteinu figures.
Cohen’s phone lines, like those of other central suspects in the affair, were tapped for several months. A hidden camera was also installed in the office of a local council head who was questioned. The camera recorded that official’s meetings involving the transfer of funds from the state to the local council.
Another official who was questioned was shown pictures of himself with one of the key figures in the affair, Yisrael Beiteinu chief of staff David Godovsky.
The police used particularly sensitive means of investigation in their attempt to document the alleged graft, which required them to update Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein, and for him to approve the police methods. The police used these methods to produce evidence that the local council heads and the heads of non-profit associations allegedly knew they were paying bribes to high-ranking individuals.
A number of local council heads and heads of non-profit associations are said to have taken part against their will in schemes to obtain funding. They were allegedly told that the only way to obtain money for the entities that were important to them would be to pay a fixer between 20 percent and 40 percent of the money to be transferred.
Such individuals were allegedly told at times by politicians to employ the fixer as a consultant in order to receive the money. Kirschenbaum is suspected of conditioning the receipt on finding appointments for certain people. Evidence must still be obtained that some of the money she obtained for non-profit associations or local councils ended up in her hands. Kirshenbaum denies all allegations.
One question said to have been needling several of the people questioned over the past few weeks is, Who crossed the lines and agreed to give themselves up to the law? Some of those involved are said to see indications from the fact that one of the main suspects, Megillot Regional Council Chairman Mordechai Dahman, recently changed lawyers, from Navot Tel-Tzur and Tal Shapira to Rachel Toren, although the reason for the change in legal representation is not known.
Dahman had been involved in a graft affair in which former Shas politician and cabinet minister Shlomo Benizri was convicted. As regional council chairman, Dahman had sought to promote, on behalf of a businessman he knew, a grandiose tourism project for the ultra-Orthodox market in the area of the regional council he headed. The businessman’s partner was Moshe Sela, an employment contractor who became a state’s witness who eventually led to Benizri’s conviction. A third, silent partner to the project was Benizri himself. The project was never implemented.
Dahman said at the trial that he was shocked to discover that a government minister was involved in an economic project.
An individual knowledgable about the details of the affair said he believed there would soon be “a leap forward in the investigation.” Police sources say that even now they have evidence of several instances of graft, which are allegedly enough to try Kirshenbaum and a number of her close associates.
Until there is a breakthrough in the probe, Weinstein has established a team whose purpose is to reduce the flow of funds from two sources that allegedly provided millions to various entities: coalition funding (money that the political parties can distribute at their discretion) and funding that government ministries give to associations and organizations involved in the area of their responsibility.
The investigation has so far revealed that these types of funding transfers show “clear signs of rot,” according to an individual familiar with the details, and that numerous fixers are employed along the way, and not only in Yisrael Beiteinu as has been alleged.
The fixers who have supposedly already been identified appear to have acted in a manner similar to actions taken in affairs still to be probed: The stops that various funds made along the way to their destinations are to be examined closely. One of these stops is the most powerful committee in the Knesset, which until now has not come under close scrutiny – the Finance Committee. Also to be probed are departments in the Education Ministry and Keren Kayemeth Leisrael.