The Israel Tax Authority has been secretly investigating Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman for more than two years on suspicion that he evaded taxes in the years before his appointment.
The authority recently asked Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein for permission to summon Neeman for questioning, but Weinstein has yet to respond.
The investigation began after the authority received information from a reliable source indicating that for years Neeman - then a private attorney who headed the major Israeli law firm Herzog Fox & Neeman - had concealed substantial amounts of income from the authority. The information also indicated that Neeman had not properly reported on his assets.
The Tax Authority sought to confirm this information in various ways, and ultimately concluded that it seemed to have some basis. At that point, it informed former Attorney General Menachem Mazuz of the probe, and he agreed that it should be expanded. But it was still kept under wraps.
Recently, the authority concluded that it had enough prima facie evidence to justify moving the probe into formal legal channels. It therefore presented the evidence to Weinstein and sought his permission to question Neeman.
The Tax Authority declined to comment on the matter yesterday, saying it does not divulge information about investigations. The Justice Ministry said "the attorney general is not in the habit of informing the public about his discussions with law-enforcement agencies unless there is some justification for doing so. This is the policy both in cases where the [reporter's] question has some basis and in cases where it has no basis in reality. There is nothing in this response to either confirm or deny the allegations in your question."
Neeman, 72, set up his law firm in 1972. One of the firm's partners, Chaim Herzog, later became Israeli president. Neeman is considered an expert in tax law, and his firm is considered a leader in this field.
In June 1996, Neeman was appointed justice minister in Benjamin Netanyahu's first government. Journalist Yoav Yitzhak promptly petitioned the High Court of Justice against the appointment, claiming that Neeman had tried to suborn a witness in the trial of former MK Aryeh Deri and was therefore unfit for the post. In August 1996, then-Attorney General Michael Ben-Yair told the court he had decided to open a criminal investigation into Neeman, and Neeman resigned the same day.
The investigation ultimately produced an indictment, but on different charges: Neeman was accused of giving the police false testimony during the probe and of giving the High Court a false affidavit in response to Yitzhak's petition. But in May 1997, a court cleared him completely, saying the incorrect details in both police testimony and affidavit were honest mistakes, as evidenced by the fact that Neeman himself informed the police and the court of the errors as soon as he discovered them.
Both then and afterward, Neeman claimed that the indictment was cooked up for the sole purpose of ousting him from the Justice Ministry.
Recently, the State Comptroller's Office took testimony from Neeman as part of an investigation into exorbitant wages and other alleged financial irregularities at Bar-Ilan University. Until becoming justice minister in 2009, he chaired the university's executive council, which is supposed to supervise the state-funded school's operations.
Neeman is considered very close to Netanyahu. He mediated between Netanyahu and his wife Sara in 1993 after rumors emerged of a videotape documenting Netanyahu's involvement in an extramarital affair.