Jacob Frenkel Drops Bid for Bank of Israel Chief Amid Probe Into Hong Kong Shoplifting Affair

The probe began after it came to light that when submitting his candidacy, Professor Jacob Frenkel had omitted mention of his 2006 detention at the Hong Kong airport.

Hila Raz
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Hila Raz

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's choice for the next Bank of Israel governor has withdrawn his candidacy for the post, after an investigation was opened into an alleged 2006 shoplifting affair at the Hong Kong airport.

The probe began after it came to light that when submitting his bid, Professor Jacob Frenkel had omitted mention of his detention in Hong Kong.

Frenkel allegedly was detained because he had walked out of a duty free shop with an expensive garment bag that had not been paid for.

In an interview with Channel 2 on Monday, Frenkel lamented that despite his willingness to set his own plans aside and "lend a hand" by accepting the post of the central bank's governor, he has become the subject of slanderous accusations.

He charged that some individuals sought to smear his professional reputation and cast doubt over his honesty in a bid to ensure that he is not confirmed for the job. He stopped short of naming names.

He continued to maintain that the shoplifting affair was nothing but a misunderstanding.

"I was at the duty free in Hong Kong … They thought that I had left with a large garment bag that I didn't pay for," he said, noting that the item could not have been easily concealed. Initial media reports about the incident alleged that the item in question was a bottle of perfume.

"I had arranged with a friend that she would stand in line and pay for it," he continued, suggesting that when he received the bag he was mistakenly under the imperssion it was bought and paid for.

"When she came to me and told me what happened, she was very embarrassed," he recalled. "I had to console her. The authorities [in Hong Kong] accepted my version of the events and apologized."

On July 19, Frenkel presented his side of the story before the Turkel Committee, which is tasked with vetting candidacies for top public service posts.

Asked why he held off on addressing the issue publicly earlier in the ordeal, he said: "You don't address a matter that is being discussed by the committee in the media.

"I told the committee that I'm being burned at the stake," he said. "They have slandered my name but I have avoided addressing each lie. The committee appreciated my silence.

"… I have agreed [to give an interview] after having a long conversation with the prime minister and the finance minister, and notifying them that I have withdrawn my candidacy," he said.

Earlier this month, Frenkel's attorney, Sharon Ser, submitted a letter to the Turkel committee, stating that her client had been handed the bag by his traveling companion, and that he thought it had already been paid for.

Ser also said that Hong Kong’s Department of Justice had apologized to Frenkel and thanked him for not demanding compensation over the affair.

Frenkel served as Israel’s central bank governor from 1991 to 2000 and kept his diplomatic passport afterward.

Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein previously declared that there would be no problem choosing Frenkel as Bank of Israel governor again, even though this would be his third term and the law limits governors to two terms.

Jacob Frenkel.Credit: Bloomberg

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