Former cabinet minister and Labor Party leader Benjamin Ben-Eliezer has rejected a plea bargain in which prosecutors offered to drop the bribery charges against him and not seek a prison sentence – if he would pay a fine of almost 10 million shekels ($2.6 million), a source involved in the negotiations said.
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The talks, first reported by Channel 10 television Monday night, have gone on for several weeks. They were prompted by Ben-Eliezer’s poor medical condition.
The source said the prosecution essentially accepted a deal that Ben-Eliezer proposed even before the indictment was filed. Under that agreement, he would have confessed to charges of breach of trust, tax evasion and falsified reporting, but not to the more serious charges of bribery and money laundering.
Nevertheless, Ben-Eliezer rejected the prosecution’s current offer, among other reasons because of the size of the proposed fine. Thus, the talks have broken off, sources involved in them said.
In April, Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit rejected Ben-Eliezer’s request for a stay of proceedings due to his medical condition. The former minister is currently undergoing medical treatments several times a week, including dialysis for his kidney failure, and several medical opinions submitted by his attorneys said he isn’t expected to live much longer.
A few days before Mendelblit refused to grant a stay, Ben-Eliezer pleaded not guilty to the charges against him. The defense brief opened by noting that after falling ill in 2011, he spent eight days in a coma. Since then, his health has steadily deteriorated, the brief continued, and today “his life is on hold.”
The indictment, filed last December, included several corruption charges. The first accused him of requesting and receiving $400,000 from businessman Avraham Nanikashvili in exchange for assistance rendered to Nanikashvili and his partner, Jacky Ben-Zaken, in Ben-Eliezer’s capacity as minister of industry, trade and employment. The second accused him of receiving 760,000 shekels from businessman Roi Mutzafi, of which he used 260,000 to buy a plot of land for his wife and son in Nes Tziona and 500,000 toward buying a house in Jaffa.
The defense brief claimed that both Nanikashvili and Mutzafi loaned him the money out of personal friendship.
The third count charged Ben-Eliezer with money laundering. It accused him of holding a large sum of foreign currency in cash that an acquaintance, Charlie Yehuda, later converted into 2.142 million shekels for him.
Finally, Ben-Eliezer was charged with failing to file mandatory tax returns from 2007-2013, thus concealing millions of shekels acquired through bribes. The defense brief claimed that the sums received from Nanikashvili and Mutzafi were loans, and therefore weren’t taxable income and didn’t have to be reported. It also said the requisite returns were all filed in May 2015.