Haaretz Investigation / Katsav and Family Co-own Land With Gavrieli Brothers

Former president Moshe Katsav, his wife, and two of his children share joint ownership of plots of land in the Be'er Sheva and Givat Brenner areas with Reuven and Ezra (Shauni) Gavrieli, an investigative report by Haaretz has revealed. Full details of the story will be published in this Friday's edition of the paper.

This is the first time that evidence has emerged of a business link between the Gavrieli family and Katsav, who as a government minister and as president intervened on Reuven Gavrieli's behalf in various business dealings, specifically in Georgia.

In the course of the Haaretz investigative report - which traces the fall of the Gavrieli brothers' financial empire and their subsequent legal entanglements, which are likely to culminate in a harsh criminal indictment, currently being formulated by prosecutors - it was learned that Gavrieli-owned companies would often buy up many tracts of land, most of them agricultural, at low prices, in the hope that one day those pieces of property would be allocated to residential real estate projects.

Among the properties purchased by the family by way of their real estate company, "Gavrieli A. Properties and Investments," are dozens of dunams adjacent to the site of the planned Nahal Be'er Sheva Park. The Haaretz investigation also revealed the identities of a number of other close associates who share in the proprietorship of these lands, the most conspicuous of the group being former president Moshe Katsav and his wife, Gila. The Katsavs were listed in the land registry office as the owners of the property in May 2001, when Moshe Katsav was serving as president and long before his sexual scandals came to light.

As part of the land purchase, which was consummated a few years prior to its listing in the registry office, Shauni Gavrieli reported that his company bought 57 dunams near Be'er Sheva, "part of which for the [company], and part of it in trust for Gila Katsav and Moshe Katsav from Kiryat Malachi. The company purchased for the two of them three unspecified dunams of real estate."

On May 8, 2001, one day before the properties were officially listed under the names of Moshe and Gila Katsav, the names of two of the couple's children - Yisrael, then 21 years of age, and his younger brother Boaz - were also added, indicating that they were the owners of land within the Givat Brenner regional council lines. The tract of land of which Boaz and Yisrael Katsav are part owners, which sits northeast of Kibbutz Givat Brenner, stretches across dozens of dunams, most of which is held by a different company under the name "A.R.A.S. Properties and Investments." The company is owned jointly by the Gavrieli brothers, together with businessman and Likud central committee member Aryeh Shasha.

Katsav confirmed the information as accurate while claiming that he paid full price for the properties. As such, he refused to expand on the subject, citing "the right of privacy."

The indictment against the Gavrieli brothers, which prosecutors in the taxation and economics division announced they intend to serve, accuses them of operating an illegal gambling ring via the Internet from 2000 to 2002. Another target of the investigation is Shauni Gavrieli's eldest son, Shlomi, who is suspected of taking part in the management of the operations. A few months ago, Shlomi Gavrieli left Israel and is currently residing in Florida, Haaretz has learned. Individuals familiar with the details of the affair say he does not intend to return to Israel to appear before a hearing or a trial should one be held. "My client has no connection with this affair and this will become definitively clear during the course of the hearing," Yoel Reshef, an attorney for Reuven Gavrieli, told Haaretz.

The Haaretz investigation revealed that the police probe, the failure of their business ventures, and the added scrutiny of the family's operations following Inbal Gavrieli's election to a Knesset seat representing the Likud in 2003 led to the Gavrieli family's financial collapse. Shauni Gavrieli, Inbal's father, told Haaretz: "This screwed us big time. I will show you every business that I own and I'll show you the bank statements - just awful. They crushed us. It's interesting how every time we go to close a deal with a certain entity, suddenly an item appears in the newspaper or on television, and people get cold feet and everything goes down the drain." A family-owned event hall, Ariana (today known as Hatzerot Yafo), is on the verge of closure, Gavrieli said. "It's totally falling apart. People would be asked why they book the hall for celebrations there and they would say: 'Don't quote me, but what am I going to do? Go there with a bulletproof vest?' It was that bad."