Knesset Finance Committee Chair Questioned Over Vote-buying in Habayit Hayehudi Primaries

Police questioned Nissan Slomiansky, once a major rival of Habayit Hayehudi chairman Naftali Bennett, about evidence that he paid vote contractors to organize thousands of votes for him in the most recent party primaries.

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Knesset Finance Committee chairman Nissan Slomiansky, who is suspected of vote-buying in Habayit Hayehudi’s primary elections, was Thursday questioned under caution by police for six hours.

The National Fraud Investigation Unit launched a probe into the matter in December 2012 after vote contractors from Habayit Hayehui claimed they were paid for supplying Slomiansky with thousands of voters. Some of the money was transferred to a yeshiva in Ra’anana, where one of the contractors worked.

One of the contractors, Avichai Amrussi, was questioned several times by police and reiterated his claims. A private investigator recorded Amrussi at the time boasting that he had received thousands of dollars from Slomiansky in return for securing votes in the party's primaries.

Israel's Channel 2 aired a video clip showing another vote contractor, David Ezra from Shas, a former member of the Tel Aviv Municipal Council, affirming that he too received large amount of money from Slomiansky in return for votes.

“Nissan paid, left the money, a hundred for each person,” Ezra said, “Whoever wants to get elected must invest.”

When asked how much money he received from Slomiansky, Ezra said, “Bundles. I won't say how much.”

Slomiansky’s attorney Rachel Toren said today that her client was “happy for the opportunity to tell [authorities] all the details he was aware of concerning the matter and clear, once and for all, the cloud surrounding the primary elections in the party. He trusts the police and state prosecutor and hopes that the affair is finally over.

Habayit Hayehudi chairman Naftali Bennett apparently hired the private investigator’s firm at the height of his campaign to wrest leadership of the party from former chairman Zevulun Orlev. Several of Bennett’s campaign activists also participated in the effort to collect material about his rivals.

Slomiansky, a veteran Knesset member, was considered one of Orlev's leading supporters. He won first place in the primary to determine the party's Knesset slate, which was held a few weeks after the leadership primary, beating out prominent Bennett supporters like Ayelet Shaked and Uri Orbach. The material collected by the private investigator and activists assisting Bennett seemed to suggest that contractors were promoting certain candidates in returns for hundreds of thousands of shekels.

In the wake of the media coverage of the findings, Bennett confirmed that he ordered the investigation, but did not explain how the recordings reached various media outlets and said that in principle Slomiansky should be viewed as innocent until proven otherwise.

“As long as there is an investigation, we must give each other our full support,” he said.“During the primaries we received reports of improper actions on a large scale. I ordered an examination that would focus on the matter, and it turned out that such improper conduct did, in fact, take place. After that, thousands of forms were disqualified. I'm proud of the move, which lead to clean elections. The results of the examination were transferred to the authorities six months ago.”

The tapes, which were given to the police a few months ago, were also recently given to both Channel 2 and the daily Yedioth Ahronoth, but after looking into the matter, both outlets decided not to publish them. Slomiansky subsequently gave Channel 2 a tape of his own in which Amrussi denied the allegations.

In the original recording, when Amrussi was asked how many people's forms he submitted, he said, “4,000 people, which comes to NIS 160,000.” He added, “When I see primaries I say to myself that it's time to milk them [the candidates]. They need to be supported, and the only way to get that support is money. Sums of NIS 100,000 or NIS 200,000 can help us … I know things that nobody will believe if I reveal.

Describing how the money is transferred, he said, “They say they brought you cigarettes from the duty-free. So there's two packs in the front [of the carton], and inside, $50,000 in bills. Cash only.” Amrussi added that the transactions never took place in the Knesset, because security procedures prevented such sums from being smuggled in.

“I signed up tons of people, and I made a deal with him: My people will help you, and you'll help us with NIS 250,000,” Amrussi said, though he never explicitly identified Slomiansky as the man in question. “He's already given us half the sum; he gave us a loan that we were supposed to repay.

Amrussi also said “everything is recorded,” so candidates cannot later renege.

Nissan Slomiansky, right, and Naftali Bennett, of Habayit Hayehudi, Feb. 20, 2013.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

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