Top Presidential Candidate Ben-Eliezer Suspected of Illegally Receiving Funds

Labor MK interrogated over funds from businessman linked to Ashdod Port corruption affair; his staff denies allegations, says timing is 'odd.'

Olivier Fitoussi

Israel Police interrogated Knesset member and presidential hopeful Benjamin Ben-Eliezer (Labor) on Friday on suspicion of receiving funds illegally from a businessman linked to the Ashdod Port corruption affair.

Sources close to the matter told Haaretz the police suspect that Ben-Eliezer illegally received hundreds of thousands of dollars from Avraham Nanikashvili, a businessman involved in the Ashdod Port affair, who was interrogated again on Friday in relation to Ben-Eliezer. 

Ben-Eliezer was initially summoned only for questioning, but as he failed to supply a good explanation for the transfer of funds, the questioning turned into interrogation under warning. The MK is expected to be interrogated again. Nanikashvili did not deny he transferred the funds, but claimed his actions were lawful.

According to suspicions, the transfer of funds was made in several ways. In one case, a direct transfer was made from a bank account linked to Nanikashvili to a bank account linked to Ben-Eliezer. In addition, police are investigating money transfers to the MK's relatives. In another case, police are examining the exchange of $300,000 by Ben-Eliezer.  

According to the police, the investigation into the matter was opened following information which reached Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein. Weinstein instructed the police to summon Ben-Eliezer for an questioning as part of an investigation in cooperation with the Tax Authority.

Ben-Eliezer's staff denied the allegations and said the timing of the interrogation, four days before the presidential vote, is "odd."

In a statement released by Ben-Eliezer's office, it was claimed the MK was only informed of the suspicions against him on Friday morning.

"MK Ben-Eliezer arrived this morning, with a 20 minute warning, to deliver all the information he was asked for. Ben-Eliezer asked for the examination to be over as quickly as possible and to reveal the truth to public." 

The Israeli NGO The Movement for Quality Government demanded AG Weinstein to announce on Sunday whether Ben-Eliezer is eligible to run for the presidency. "The AG's decision to launch an investigation requires him to act and make a decision as soon as possible, in order to avoid claims that the presidential election process was tainted by 'over-litigation,'" the Movement stated. 

In December 2011 questions were raised about Ben-Eliezer's finances after he bought a luxury apartment in Jaffa, valued at about nine million shekels ($2.6 million). In an interview for TheMarker about 18 months ago, Ben-Eliezer commented on the purchase and said that he "presented the Knesset speaker and the State comptroller with a list of all the sources of the payment, including the mortgage I had to take."