Moshe Leon Named as Lieberman Associate Questioned in Probe

Leon was Lieberman's candidate in the 2013 Jerusalem mayoral race; he joins dozens of officials questioned or arrested already in the Yisrael Beiteinu graft affair.

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Avigdor Lieberman, left, Moshe Leon.
Avigdor Lieberman, left, Moshe Leon.Credit: Nir Keidar

Moshe Leon, a close associate of Foreign Minister and Yisrael Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman, was questioned by police on Sunday, joining the dozens of officials already questioned or already arrested in the party's graft case.

Leon's name was under a gag order until he responded to the allegations on Sunday evening, saying that he cooperated fully with investigators.

Until very recently, Leon was on Yisrael Beiteinu's Knesset list in a high spot, which would have guaranteed him a position as minister. He is suspected of the same crimes as Deputy Interior Minister Faina Kirshenbaum, the main suspect in the affair, who allegedly transferred funds to regional authorities and non-governmental organizations. Leon allegedly charged a high commission fee for his involvement.

Leon, a Givatayim accountant and political activist, made headlines as Lieberman's protege in Jerusalem's mayoral race in October 2013, which he lost to incumbent Nir Barkat.

Later on Sunday, it was revealed that another suspect – a regional council head – was questioned by police. He was released after a few hours of investigation.

Lieberman, at a press conference in Jerusalem, December 2, 2014.Credit: Emil Salman

Earlier Sunday, Haaretz reported that the police unit overseeing the investigation is preparing for a second wave of arrests and developments that will implicate a number of government ministries in the fair.

The new developments in the case unraveled after a senior official was recruited as a state witness in the affair, who provided recordings and documents testifying to the transfer of funds. At least one of the recordings presented to the police testify to the involvement of a figure close to Lieberman.

Meanwhile, Lieberman said Sunday that he expected the State Prosecutor to explain why the investigation into the Yisrael Beiteinu corruption scandal was being expanded during the election campaign period.

Lieberman emphasized that the prosecution itself had claimed in the case of the lawsuit filed by the caretaker of the Prime Minister's residence against the Netanyahu family that such matters must be handled with sensitivity so as not to influence the political system during the legal proceedings.

"This is particularly troublesome for me," Lieberman said before the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem. "It is strange that when it comes to the matter of Yisrael Beiteinu, there is pressure to expand the investigation. It's a double standard. I know State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan. I respect and appreciate it, and expect to hear an explanation from him is this attitude being taken in this affair just because it involves Yisrael Beiteinu?"

Lieberman also hinted that the police was responsible for what he called leaks regarding the investigation. "This is a planned procedure, extremely well-timed. The investigation is completely coordinated with the election period Through the end of the campaign period, every day, there will be investigation and leaks. That will accompany us for the coming months."

The arrest of additional high-ranking public officials is likely, according to the sources close to the investigation. Several officials associated with Yisrael Beiteinu are currently in detention or out on bail.

According to the sources, since the investigation went public a troubling picture of using public money to benefit the party and its officials has been painted, which seems to extend beyond the Interior Ministry. The middlemen who were detained during the first wave of arrests are suspected of using similar tactics in various ministries controlled by the party. Currently, Yisrael Beiteinu holds five ministerial positions, including the foreign, agriculture, absorption, tourism and public security portfolios. Investigations into the Public Security Ministry could force the Israel Police to investigate high-ranking officials from the ministry responsible for its conduct.

Information recently received by the police and currently being investigated could link party leader Lieberman to the scandal, even though police officials are saying that at this time there is not sufficient evidence to say that Lieberman knew of the criminal acts taking place.

Two days ago, responding to suspicions of corruption against officials in his party, Lieberman wrote “time after time and without exception, before every election, ‘mysterious forces’ get involved and harm Yisrael Beteinu’s chances of participating fairly. Because with regards to Yisrael Beiteinu – there is no election without [an] investigation.”

Lieberman expressed confidence in the innocence of the suspects and added that he “strongly rejects attempts to stain Yisrael Beteinu as a whole.”

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