Former Israeli Defense Minister Sued by Son for Over Half a Million Dollars

Former Labor Party stalwart was charged with receiving bribes, including the $522,000 in his safety deposit box, but his son claims the money belongs to him.

Benjamin (Fuad) Ben-Eliezer at a Labor faction meeting.
Olivier Fitoussi

A Labor Party stalwart and former minister is being sued by his son for over half a million dollars found hidden in a safe.

The details of the $522,000 claim brought by Ophir Ben-Eliezer and his wife Shirly against Benjamin Ben-Eliezer became available after the Family Affairs court lifted a gag order on the case last week.

The two demand in their claim, dated December 20, 2015, that the elder Ben-Eliezer hand over the money in the safe, which is equivalent to about 2 million shekels, on the grounds that it belonged to Ophir in the first place.

Ophir, Ben-Eliezer’s first son, left Israel as a child with his mother. In 1986, he sold his business in Germany and returned to Israel, bringing with him $330,000, he claims. Since he hadn't yet decided where to live and whether to start a family, he gave the money to his father for safekeeping. He ultimately chose to move to the United States, confident that when he asked his father for the money, he would get it.

However, in late 2015, the state prosecution charged Benjamin Ben-Eliezer with corruption, violation of the anti-money laundering law, fraud and tax offenses. He is accused of demanding — and receiving — money from businessmen in exchange for wielding his ministerial influence. Among other things, he used the money to buy property. The prosecution accuses Ben-Eliezer of receiving 2.2 million shekels in bribes and about 4 million more from unknown sources. Part of the amount, $575,000, was found in Ben-Eliezer’s safety deposit box at Discount Bank.

Possibly, this son vs. father lawsuit is spin, designed to explain the origin of the money: It belongs to Ophir Ben-Eliezer, whose father is just holding onto it for him.

Amit Hadad, Benjamin Ben-Eliezer’s lawyer, said in court, where the proceedings are being heard before Judge Vered Shavit Finkelstein, that he is worried the state will think they’re trying to dupe the legal system, and therefore wanted to add the attorney general to the proceedings.

The state has meanwhile seized the money found in the safe.

Ophir Ben-Eliezer and his wife explain that they decided to sue out of concern that the elder Ben-Eliezer or his wife would give $400,000 of the money belonging to them to their daughter in New Zealand.

For his part, Benjamin Ben-Eliezer motioned to dismiss the claim out of hand, arguing that it was defective, filed without supporting documents, and that if his son wanted the money, he had to ask the state, which was holding it.

When the court held a hearing on the matter in March, only Shirly Ben-Eliezer and the lawyers for the parties attended. The claimants said they didn’t have supporting documents because the issue was a family matter; they also said that Ben-Eliezer himself told the police that the money was his son’s.

The state itself asked to be added to the proceedings with no objection from Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, and claimed that Ophir Ben-Eliezer and his wife neglected to disclose that the confiscated money was theirs during the criminal investigation.

On June 5, the parties filed a consensual motion to postpone the claim, without costs and without derogating from Ophir and Shirly Ben-Eliezer’s right to sue the state at a later stage. The court agreed and the claim is postponed — but the public won the right to know the story.