Israel Police’s announcement on Wednesday that it had completed its corruption investigation into the Yisrael Beiteinu party detailed the structure of a crime organization working within central government. Although there are no car bombs, dismembered corpses or caches of cocaine mentioned in the report, it remains unclear what kind of criminal group is more harmful to society: The kind that kills one another in the streets, imports ecstasy and runs illegal gambling, or the gang in tailored suits that allegedly sticks its hand in the public purse.
All of the elements contained in crime scandals involving mob figures like Yitzhak Abergil and Amir Mulner can also be found in this white-collar crime scandal: a clear hierarchy, systematic infractions, constant attempts to cover tracks, refusal to answer during questioning, destruction of documents, corroborating testimonies, attempts to influence state’s witnesses to retract statements.
Allegedly standing atop the pyramid was the second-strongest figure in Avigdor Lieberman’s party – former Deputy Interior Minister Faina Kirshenbaum. According to evidence compiled by the police, Kirshenbaum allocated coalition funds for cultural events for the immigrant community from the Former Soviet Union. But the seasoned politician also allegedly managed to skim a healthy cut for herself nearly every time. She acted with sophistication and tried to cover her tracks, police say. For example, the police believe Kirshenbaum skimmed 150,000 shekels (about $39,000) from legitimate allocations of budget funds meant for importing flavored tobacco to Israel – a deal in which she was a silent partner. According to suspicions, in order to launder the illegal transfer of funds, Kirshenbaum was given a fictional receipt for services that never took place – just how they cover up illegal activity in the underworld.
When she allocated state funds for the Ezra World movement, which promotes immigration to Israel, Kirshenbaum allegedly received plane tickets for herself and her family, as well as various electronics goods.
Sometimes, the funds were taken for the good of her party. Take, for example, the case in which the Samaria Development Company found itself in a financial hole and allegedly received a helping hand from the deputy minister. Police evidence shows that Kirshenbaum managed to allocate 3.5 million shekels for the company; in return, the firm opened a “discretionary fund” for her to the tune of 1.5 million shekels, which was meant for her own personal needs as well as those of her party. The company then purchased services at exorbitant prices from associates of Kirshenbaum, and transferred funds to her partners from the tobacco import deal.
The company also provided travel services for the party. Kirshenbaum’s suspected right hand in these acts was Yisrael Beiteinu chief of staff David Godovsky. According to evidence gathered by the police, Godovsky asked for and received various amounts of money in cash for several budgetary transfers.
One organization that received 15 million shekels and seemingly yielded to Kirshenbaum and Godovsky’s demands was the Ayalim Association, which seeks to build student villages in the Galilee and the Negev. In another case – according to evidence collected – the former deputy minister provided funds for the Masada Project in the Tamar Regional Council. According to suspicions, in return for support of the project, council head Dov Litvinoff transferred 400,000 shekels to a private company.
A series of key players in central government positions were allegedly involved in the corruption ring: Former Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov, who allegedly used ministry funds as if they were his own; National Roads Authority head Alex Viznitzer, suspected of taking bribes; Local Government Economic Services chairman Shaul Mizrahi, who allegedly obstructed the police investigation in order to save a friend; and Agriculture Ministry director general Rami Cohen, suspected of accepting bribes.
The list includes many other businessmen, authority figures and lobbyists with connections to people in high places. We trusted these people to guard our coffers, but they seemingly had other goals in mind.
A week ago, the current turmoil in Jerusalem obscured reports of a troubling indictment: Jerusalem District deputy prosecutor Danny Witman indicted former Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger. The indictment reveals a series of bribes, totaling millions of shekels, offered to Metzger by various tycoons and friends of people in high places. The indictment describes a spiritual giant acting like a common criminal. When he was threatened, Metzger allegedly tried to buy off the person set to testify against him.
The Metzger affair, like the Yisrael Beiteinu scandal, is the latest chapter in a book that decries the moral deterioration of the Israeli political system, describing the increasingly blurred line between white collar and black economy. There are other dark chapters that are still being written. We’ll be exposed to the choicest quotes soon.
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