Co-defendant in Hirchson Case Signs Plea Bargain

Another key figure accused of embezzlement alongside former finance minister Abraham Hirchson signed a plea bargain with the State Prosecutor's Office.

Yitzhak Russo was the director of the National Workers Union, which was associated with the non-profit Nili, from which Hirchson and his associates allegedly embezzled millions of shekels.

Russo is expected to be convicted of embezzling NIS 300,000 from Nili, abetting the embezzlement of another NIS 500,000, money laundering, fraud, corporate breach of trust and falsifying corporate documents.

Russo is the fifth of the seven defendants in the case to strike a deal with the prosecution, which will ask the Tel Aviv District Court to sentence him to 20 months in prison on Wednesday. Under the deal, Russo's attorney, Adi Erlich, can ask for any sentence she sees fit.

Hirchson yesterday met with his lawyers, Jacob Weinroth, Israel Wolnerman and Eliram Bakal, who continue to deny that their client is also heading toward a plea bargain. The testimony that was to open the defense phase of Hirchson's trial today was postponed after Russo turned state's witness.

Hirchson, who served as head of the National Workers Union from 1998 to 2005, is suspected of embezzling about NIS 2.5 million, which he allegedly received in monthly cash payments under the auspices of expense reimbursements and holiday bonuses, among others.

Russo is the second most senior official after Hirchson to be accused in the case. Next in the hierarchy is Ovadiah Cohen, the union finance director, who was convicted under a plea bargain of embezzling NIS 10 million. Of that sum, he gave NIS 2.5 million to Hirchson and NIS 5.5 million to his brother, David, who worked as a messenger and allegedly found himself deep in gambling debt. Ovadiah Cohen was sentenced to four years and eight months in jail.

The prosecution has asked the court to take Cohen's penalty into consideration when sentencing Hirchson.

Nili's accountant, Amatziah Bonner, was sentenced at the end of December to a 40-month prison term, also following a plea bargain. He was convicted of stealing NIS 3.9 million. Ronit Garti, an accountant with the National Workers Union, was convicted of abetting the falsification of corporate documents, and was sentenced to six months' community service.

The only other person in the dock with Hirchson now is Tzion Cohen, the brother of Ovadiah Cohen and David Cohen, who was the director of the union's pension fund. He was charged with similar crimes after the authorities learned that NIS 1.7 million of union and Nili money had been transferred from his bank account to his brother David's.