Hirchson Faces Another Interrogation; Police Source: He May Have Been Framed

Police do not discount the possibility that Finance Minister Abraham Hirchson is being framed, according to a source close to the investigation. "Large deposits were allegedly made to Hirchson's accounts. He is not in an easy situation, because he has to explain many things, but he certainly may have explanations that will satisfy us with regard to the deposits," the source said.

Outgoing Police Commissioner Moshe Karadi said Friday that media reports over alleged embezzlement by Hirchson contain inaccuracies and disinformation. In a speech in Be'er Sheva, Karadi said, the Hirchson investigation was "just beginning and I suggest letting the police handle it in the interrogation rooms, and not through the media."

Journalist Yoav Yitzhak said yesterday on his Web site that Hirchson had written documents ostensibly explaining the use of funds from nonprofit organizations in which he was involved. Hirchson said cash in envelopes that Shlomo Aroas, the messenger from Nili told police he delivered, had been used legally and legitimately to fund the official stays abroad of March of the Living emissaries, including Hirchson.

Hirchson is to decide whether to continue as finance minister after his next interrogation by police, expected this week, his associates said. If he felt the suspicions against him required it, he would not wait until the attorney general made a recommendation, but would resign.

Hirchson's party Kadima and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's bureau have not called on Hirchson to step down, but they reportedly believe Hirchson will have no choice but to resign very soon, since being investigated for financial wrongdoing would preclude him retaining responsibility for Israel's economy.

Hirchson remained secluded at home, preparing for his interrogation although the police have yet to officially summon him. He is expected to attend today's cabinet meeting to show he is still at the helm in the Finance Ministry.

Hirchson's associates said many of the allegations published in the media did not come up at all during the first interrogation, and he is having trouble assessing his situation.

Hirchson's close associates say they understand his days as finance minister are numbered, and that he will have to find as dignified way as possible to exit.

Sources close to Olmert said he clearly would not want to embarrass his good friend and the man he appointed and prefers that Hirchson step down of his own volition. And Hirchson knows this.

At the end of the week political pressure was ratcheted up for Hirchson to resign or step aside. Minister Eitan Cabel (Labor) said it would be difficult for Hirchson to lead a large and complex system while under the pressure of an investigation, and that he should make a decision. Interior Minister Roni Bar-On (Kadima), short-listed to replace Hirchson, said yesterday the finance minister had no obligation to resign.

Police suspect Hirchson of embezzling NIS 10 million from the National Workers' Organization (NWO). The suspicions are based on documents collected over months of investigation of alleged fraud and misappropriation of funds from Nili, a Jewish youth organization, March of the Living and bodies connected to the NWO. The investigators will present Hirchson with his bank statements and seek explanations for unusually large deposits.

Hirchson's version of events raises several questions: If he was stealing money from the NWO and associations, would he have taken the risk of transferring it in such an amateurish manner, involving many individuals, including a low-level functionary and a Filipina housekeeper? And might not those suspected of embezzling funds from Nili, including its chairman, Ovadia Cohen, who confessed to taking millions of shekels, implicate Hirchson to minimize their own guilt?