Israel's Deputy Interior Minister Among 30 Senior Officials Questioned for Corruption

In addition to Yisrael Beiteinu's Faina Kirshenbaum and fellow party member and former minister Stas Misezhnikov, suspects include Knesset members, sports officials, political activists, and regional authority heads.

Yaniv Kubovich
Yaniv Kubovich
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Lahav 433 investigative unit.
Lahav 433 investigative unit.Credit: Moti Milrod
Yaniv Kubovich
Yaniv Kubovich

More than two dozen senior figures in the Israeli public sector have been detained for questioning over suspicion that they illegally allocated funds to non-sanctioned organization and laundered money through a straw company.

The approximately 30 suspects also allegedly granted personal favors, engaged in bribery, and pushed for their associates' promotions.

The investigation, which has been ongoing for about a year, involved searches of homes and offices of the suspects, and computers and documents have been confiscated.

The suspects include Yisrael Beiteinu MK and Deputy Interior Minister Faina Kirshenbaum and fellow party member and former Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov. The other suspects include members of Knesset, the heads of regional authorities, the deputy general of a government office, the directors general and heads of non-governmental organizations, senior public union members, senior sports officials and political activists. Further senior figures are expected to be subpoenaed for testimony.

A gag order was slapped on the case until the end of the year-long covert investigation, after it emerged that the suspects were indeed working together and methodically to advance their own personal and public interests and accepting funds for personal reasons after committing the various crimes, in a manner that significantly breached business regulation. The investigation was coordinated with the attorney general and the police commissioner.

The police said that the investigation was being revealed during this sensitive campaign period in order to halt the embezzlement of public funds – the price would have been even higher had it been exposed closer to the elections, said the police.

Police Commissioner Yohanan Danino praised the officers involved in the probe for their "professionalism and determination in working to uncover the truth."

Danino rejected allegations that the police was trying to influence the current election cycle by pursuing one party in particular. "The Israel Police has proved over the years that it has done and will do everything it can to battle public corruption using all of the ways and means at its disposal," Danino said. "It is our duty to safeguard the democratic nature of the state with equality and impartiality."

Danino said that the decision to publicize the investigation resulted from an evaluation of the evidence and professional considerations alone. He added that the decision was made following consultations with the attorney general and state prosecutor, and after careful consideration, especially in light of the election season.

The police said keeping the investigation under wraps would have been costlier than exposing the probe during election campaigning.

Yisrael Beiteinu called the exposure of the affair a targeted attack on its party.

"As has been the case during every election period since Yisrael Beiteinu was established in 1999, the police have again not missed the chance for high media profile arrests and investigations against members of our party.

"If the details of the investigation had been revealed before early elections were called, or after them, you might think this was a relevant matter, but that fact that again, it happened during elections, proves that there is an ulterior motive aimed at Yisrael Beiteinu. We are convinced of the innocence of our people and as in the past, as soon as the noise and media propaganda quiets down, it will be clear that there is nothing behind these reports other than the desire – which won't succeed – to hurt Yisrael Beiteinu."

Kirshenbaum is a dominant figure in Yisrael Beiteinu, who has served as the secretary-general of the party for the last decade. She is considered a close confidante of party chairman Lieberman, and during her tenure at the Interior Ministry, Kirshenbaum also developed close ties to former Interior Minister Gideon Sa'ar. She also spearheaded eforts to oust MK Haneen Zoabi from the Knesset following her participation in the flotilla aimed at breaching the Gaza naval blockade.

Kirshenbaum, who earned an MBA, lives in the Israeli settlement of Nili, east of Modi'in. She immigrated to Israel in 1973.

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