The police have confiscated an index-card file of the Central Company for the Development of Samaria’s bookkeeping department in which the precise amounts of money were recorded that were allegedly passed as bribes to activists associated with Yisrael Beiteinu, Haaretz has learned.
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At the heart of the Yisrael Beiteinu corruption accusations is a debt of 11 million shekels (about $2.8 million) that the company owes to the Jerusalem Bank, Bank Mizrahi Tefahot and Bank Adanim.
Samaria Regional Council head Gershon Mesika, who as part of his position serves as chairman of the Central Company for the Development of Samaria’s board of directors, was arrested in this affair, along with the company’s former director general, Haim Ben-Shushan.
The debt began to accrue in 1998, when the company embarked on a major building project of 255 housing units in West Bank settlements. As was the usual practice in those days, the Finance Ministry granted a loan for the construction through a number of banks. All told, the company borrowed 76 million shekels.
The second intifada, which broke out in 2000, led to a dramatic decline in demand for housing in the territories; some of the projects got no further than the foundations, others were canceled. The development company paid back 35 million shekels to the banks from unused funds and from the sale of houses, and was left with a debt of 41 million shekels.
Amana, a cooperative society for construction in the settlements, and its head Ze’ev Hever spearheaded an arrangement to forgive 30 million shekels of the debt, and to postpone the repayment of the final 11 million shekels.
Ben-Shushan was appointed director general of the Samaria development company in 2008, after he ran against Mesika in 2007 and withdrew his candidacy at the last minute. When he took up his post, he said he did not want Amana to handle the debt and he would lead talks with the Finance Ministry to forgive the rest of the debt.
From information conveyed to the police it emerges that at a meeting of the board of directors in March 2012, Ben-Shushan reported that the matter had been closed. Yoel Neuman, a member of the board, who later sued the company and passed on a great deal of material to police about the alleged corruption, asked Ben-Shushan how the debt had been closed and whether payment had been made to fixers. At that point Mesika reportedly jumped up and said: “This not a subject to talk about at all.”
Now it turns out that a separate index-card file was being managed by the company’s bookkeeping department in which political expenses of an unclear nature were documented. For example, on the eve of elections in 2013, 250,000 shekels were paid to a company called Bedek Media, for a “campaign in Russian” and an “Internet campaign.” Bedek Media is owned by Alex Klevitzky, an advertising executive who is close to Yisrael Beiteinu. However, the company never published anything in Russian. Klevitzky has testified to the police.
Major amounts of money were transferred to Yisrael Beiteinu activists. Rami Cohen, now director general of the Agriculture Ministry and a long-time adviser to Yisrael Beiteinu chairman, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, received 487,200 shekels for consulting services. According to the police probe, Cohen, who is under arrest in the affair, allegedly never provided the company with any real consulting services.
Cohen’s attorney said in response: “My client completely denies the suspicions and fictions he is charged with. Cohen served the state faithfully and endlessly, and he deserves at least that his version be heard before his good name is smeared for nothing.”
A total of 352,880 shekels was given in monthly installments of 14,000 shekels to a well-known fixer who promised the Samaria development company that he would speak to the Knesset Finance Committee chairman at the time, Moshe Gafni, so the latter would move ahead on forgiving the debt. That effort did not pan out.
On Tuesday Mesika and Ben-Shushan were remanded until Thursday. At the remand hearing, Mesika said: “After a week of questioning it can be said with certainty that there is no suspicion that I took a penny into my own pocket. Everything I did was to save a public company and the livelihoods of 150 families.”
Ben-Shushan’s attorney Lior Epstein said at the hearing: “Between the lines we understand that bribery is an interpretation the bribery is theoretical, all the money was paid transparently.”