Hirchson Found Guilty of Multimillion-shekel Fraud

The Tel Aviv District Court yesterday convicted former finance minister Abraham Hirchson of stealing NIS 2.5 million from the National Workers Organization while serving as its chairman.

Hirchson, who was finance minister under Ehud Olmert, had been charged with theft, aggravated fraud, fraud, breach of trust, money laundering and forging corporate documents. Allegations started leaking out in 2006.

The court rejected Hirchson's claims that he had no knowledge of any wrongdoing. "Hirchson's defense arguments were far-fetched and came out of the blue," the court said. "His continuous attempts to minimize his involvement and responsibility have proved futile."

The indictment claimed that between 1998 to 2005, a total of NIS 12.3 million was stolen from the NWO and a daughter organization, Nili, with the money divided between Hirchson and five other employees. These five have already pleaded guilty and were convicted in plea bargains.

Hirchson was accused of receiving NIS 25,000 a month in cash for expenses, for a total of NIS 1.2 million. In addition, he received a "holiday grant" of between NIS 10,000 and NIS 30,000 twice a year, also in cash - totaling another NIS 160,000. Every time Hirchson traveled abroad, the nonprofit organization gave him $2,000 to $3,000 in cash. He also took another NIS 600,000 from the NWO to finance his bid in the Likud primaries in 1998 and 2002, according to the indictment.

He was also accused of inflating his car expenses, and receiving payments for medicine and meals at fancy restaurants.

Hirchson admitted to receiving NIS 1.16 million, but claimed it was an advance on his severance and pension agreement with the NWO that had yet to be finalized. He paid this sum back to the NWO just before testifying at the trial.

Hirchson took the money in cash, he said during the trial, because MKs cannot have a second source of income beyond the Knesset. His lawyer, Yaakov Weinroth, said that while Hirchson may be guilty of breach of trust, he was not guilty of theft.

"It is hard to tell what was the nature of the monthly payments that the defendant received throughout the four years at hand, because his testimonies featured contradictions, inconsistencies and irrelevancies," the court said.

Weinroth said after the hearing that he intended to wait for the verdict before deciding whether to appeal.

"I disagree with the judge that [the defendant's] version was inconsistent," he said.

The other defendants in the affair received sentences ranging from six months of public service to four years and eight months in prison. The prosecution has already told the court it wants to see Hirchson receive a sentence similar to the harshest one already meted out.