Former Agricultural Officials Face Fraud Charges for Helping Likud Associates

Three former Agriculture Ministry officials were indicted yesterday in Rishon Letzion Magistrate's Court on charges of fraud, breach of trust, falsifying documents, false registration and other offenses.

The three are Michael Eilon, who served as senior adviser to former agriculture minister Yisrael Katz and later chaired the Plants Production and Marketing Board; his aide, Miri Azoulay; and Mordechai Halperin, former head of the Poultry Board. All three are accused of working to give Likud Central Committee members jobs without issuing a tender, while falsifying documents to give an appearance of legality to the appointments.

Some of the appointees who allegedly received jobs in such a manner include a legal associate of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, David Shomron, who was named legal adviser to the Plants Production and Marketing Board; Sheaya Segal, who did media work for Netanyahu and was tasked with producing the board's newsletter; and Gad Kumran, an insurance agent who became the board's insurance adviser.

According to the indictments, while advising Katz, Eilon systematically worked to appoint at least 14 Likud Central Committee members and their associates to positions in the branch for agricultural development, while concealing their political association. Eilon allegedly sought to win the appointees' favor and boost his own political standing, as well as that of his minister.

The agricultural development branch incurred a deficit of NIS 400,000 as a direct result of the employment of the accused, the indictment said.

Eilon is accused of handing out the jobs without setting up a tender committee and without examining other candidates for the post. He didn't demand or receive formal price quotes from candidates and didn't document the process of making the appointments in writing.

In August 2004, the State Comptroller's Office approached Eilon with a request for information on the employment of Shomron, Segal and Kumran. Eilon was asked for written documentation of how the three were chosen for their posts. In response to the request, Eilon instructed his assistant, Azoulay, to create undated documents that provided the appearance that all three appointees were chosen legitimately in strict accordance with the guidelines. Azoulay forwarded the fake documents to the state comptroller.

Eilon is also accused of using the board's credit card for his private expenses, including a NIS 21,500 tuition fee and personal advertising in Yedioth Ahronoth, to the sum of NIS 1,000.

The prosecution says the accused were acting in conflict of interest and deliberately attempted to conceal their misconduct, trying to protect Eilon from the state comptroller's inquiry. He repaid his debt after leaving the post and being summoned to a hearing on his financial conduct.

Eilon is also accused of asking a board employee to rent a car on his behalf, as he could not because of unpaid traffic fines. He reportedly drove the car without a license and caused a traffic accident. Instead of informing the rental company, Eilon ordered the board employee in charge of vehicles to repair the car he had and cover the costs of repairing two other cars damaged in the accident - and this added up to NIS 37,000. Eilon repaid the costs only after a disciplinary hearing.

The indictment against Halperin states that while serving as director of the Poultry Board, he hired an accounting firm to review bookkeeping in various departments without considering other candidates. The accounting firm, Gazit, charged NIS 100,000 for services rendered. According to the indictment, Halperin asked for competing proposals only after Gazit was hired and sought inexperienced competition so the tenders committee would retroactively ensure his choice of Gazit.