Israel's state prosecution reached a plea agreement with 13 senior members of the Israeli Arab Balad faction, including former Knesset lawmaker Haneen Zoabi, in a case involving financial irregularities in the party, including forgery and fraud.
The focal point of the case is a suspicion of false reports that Balad, one of the factions comprising the Joint List of Arab parties, submitted to the state comptroller in 2013 for two elections that took place that year – for Knesset and for local authorities.
Zoabi and 35 other party members allegedly transferred 3.2 million shekels ($1 million) that came from abroad to the party’s coffers, and hid the source of the funds in the party’s financial report to the state comptroller by using forged receipts, which bore the names of people who later told investigators they had never contributed to the party. Some 1,300 receipts proved to be forged. The money was used to finance party activity in both that year’s elections.
Under the agreement, which still must be approved by the court, Zoabi and other members of the party’s central bureau, past and present, will admit to forgery and attempting to obtain something fraudulently. They will be fined and given suspended sentences. Most of the senior party members, including Zoabi, will be fined 75,000 shekels, while the others will be fined 25,000 shekels. The lengths of the suspended sentences have not yet been determined.
Discussions regarding the other 23 suspects are still underway. In talks with the suspects' lawyers, the prosecution made it clear that suspended sentences were possible depending on the scope of their offenses, but all the suspects will have to admit to their part in the fraud and take responsibility.
Both the defense attorneys and prosecutors have made it clear that although media coverage of the case had focused on Zoabi, she hadn’t been an active party to the crimes. She took responsibility, however, due to her senior position in the party.
Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit decided not to prosecute the Balad faction itself, despite the evidence implicating the former senior party officials. It was his feeling that prosecuting the party would do harm to the public the party represents, and that prosecuting party officials would be enough of a deterrent.
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The investigation began in June 2016, when police began to suspect senior Balad officials of the crimes.