Plea Bargain Would Let Israeli Arab Party Officials Avoid Prison Over Campaign Funding Fraud

Former lawmaker Haneen Zoabi is one of three dozen Balad figures suspected of concealing nearly $1 million in 2013 election campaign funding

Netael Bandel
Netael Bandel
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Former Balad MK Hanin Zoabi in 2015
Former Balad MK Haneen Zoabi in 2015Credit: Olivier Fitoussi
Netael Bandel
Netael Bandel

Prosecutors are negotiating with senior figures in Balad, including former Knesset member Haneen Zoabi, on a plea bargain that would take prison off the table in the campaign funding fraud investigation against them.

Zoabi is one of three dozen individuals in the party, a component of the Joint List alliance of predominantly Arab parties, who allegedly received foreign donations before the 2013 Knesset election and deposited it in party accounts while concealing their origins.

West Bank, Gaza Palestinians won't be voting in Israel's election - would they if they could?

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The proposed deal would drop the criminal case against Balad itself, returning that aspect of the investigation to the State Comptroller’s Office. The government watchdog could fine the party hundreds of thousands of shekels. The negotiations are not expected to conclude before Tuesday’s Knesset election.

No charges have been brought against Zoabi and 35 other Balad party members, including senior party figures. They allegedly accepted 3.2 million shekels ($970,000) in campaign donations from abroad, concealing the transactions from the State Comptroller’s Office using false receipts. The donations were used in 2013 for Balad’s Knesset campaign and local elections.

The State Comptroller’s Office found that in some cases, donors whose names appeared on declarations submitted in 2014 and 2016 denied making contributions to the party. In other cases, the purported donors turned out to be under 18 or were listed with nonexistent ID numbers. So far, police investigators have been unable to track down the source of the funds. One suspicion – that they are from former party chairman Azmi Bishara, who fled Israel in 2007 – has not been confirmed.

About two years ago, Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit announced that the suspects in the case would be charged, pending a hearing, but they were never indicted. He recently decided not to prosecute Balad, over the opposition of senior officials in the prosecution who argued that the alleged offenses were meant to benefit the party, not the suspects themselves. The suspects’ lawyers pursued a plea bargain after the decision not to indict the party was announced.

The suspects face charges of aggravated forgery, making use of forged documents, false corporate reporting, aggravated attempted fraud and money laundering. The suspects include former party secretary general Awad Hussein, party central committee members Murad Haddad and Izzaldin Badran and a regional party official, Riad Mahamid.

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