Police Recommend Trial for Former Labor MK Ben-Eliezer

Veteran minister alleged to have been involved in bribery, money laundering and other crimes, some aimed at furthering local businessmen's interests.

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Former minister and MK Benjamin Ben-Eliezer. Under several investigations.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

The Israel Police recommend putting former MK and minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer on trial for bribery, money laundering, fraud, breach of trust and tax offenses.

A statement published Tuesday indicates that sufficient evidence has been gathered against Ben-Eliezer by the Israel Police’s Lahav 443 fraud investigation unit, as well as against an additional 10 suspects.

According to the suspicions, beginning in 2006, when Ben-Eliezer served as national infrastructure minister and later as industry and trade minister, he received exorbitant sums from businessmen and other officials in exchange for advancing their interests.

Police are also investigating his role in alleged money laundering to the tune of millions of shekels, which may have been deposited in family member’s bank accounts via wire transfers. Some money is thought to have been used for purchasing real estate, while other sums were converted to cash and held in bank safes.

Ben-Eliezer’s defense attorneys, Navot Tel Zur and Tal Shapira, stated in response to the announcement that they reject the police’s recommendations.

“For 60 years, Ben-Eliezer served Israel loyally, with a sense of purpose, and he will steadfastly defend his good name despite his complex medical condition," they said. "We hope and believe that a thorough look into the evidence will present a completely different picture.”

Last month, Ben-Eliezer submitted his letter of resignation to Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, after serving in the parliament for some 30 years.

“After much difficult consideration I’ve decided to retire from the Knesset,” wrote Ben-Eliezer, adding that dealings with “my health issues have demanded most of my time and energy, and unfortunately do not permit me to focus on parliamentary work. Therefore, after consulting with my family and close friends, I’ve decided to step down from my position as a member of Knesset in order to focus on my health.”

Ben-Eliezer has been questioned numerous times in recent months by the national fraud unit, on suspicion of illegally receiving funds. His letter of resignation also mentioned the investigation.

“In addition to the struggle for my health, in recent months, I’ve been fighting to uphold my good name," he wrote. "I have full faith in the authority of law and order in Israel, and I’m sure that at the end of the process, my name will be cleared and my actions will be found to be without fault.”

Ben-Eliezer added: “This is after finishing a 60-year career which I devoted to Israel. I look back with pride and satisfaction, and am thankful that I was given the privilege of serving Israel, and taking part in developing the country.”

Three years ago, Ben-Eliezer purchased a house on the beach in southern Jaffa at a price of 9 million shekels (about $2.27m. in today's terms). A few days before the presidential election was held last June, a criminal investigation into Ben-Eliezer, a candidate, was opened on suspicion of bribery. The former minister was thought to have received millions of shekels in bribes primarily from businessman Avraham Nanikashvili, and using them to fund the house in Jaffa.

The police are investigating claims that in return for money, Ben-Eliezer assisted other businessmen in furthering their own personal interests. In July, the police issued a temporary forfeiture order on Ben-Eliezer’s house, indicating that the allegations against him appeared to hold water.

Ben-Eliezer was first elected to the Knesset in 1984, with the Yahad party, founded by Ezer Weizman, and served as an MK during 9 governments. He has served as defense minister, industry and trade minister, infrastructure minister, housing and construction minister, and communications minister.

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