Two Israeli Settlement Leaders Questioned in Fraud Investigation

Amana officials Zeev Hever and Moshe Yogev are suspected of allegedly taking kickbacks from a settlement development firm.

 Ze'ev (Zambish) Hever, head of Amana
Olivier Fitoussi

Israeli police have questioned two leaders of the settlement organization Amana on suspicion of aggravated fraud for allegedly exacting fees for the transfer of development funds.

Amana's secretary-general Ze'ev Hever, known by the nickname, Zambish, and the organization's treasurer, Moshe Yogev, were released on Monday with restraining orders requiring them to stay away from the Finance Ministry and other bodies associated with their suspected offenses.

The investigation of Amana, which builds settlements and unauthorized outposts in the West Bank, is a spinoff of a probe that discovered indications that the Company for the Development of Samaria (a biblical name for the northern West Bank) had served as a sort of slush fund for the right-wing Yisrael Beitenu party.

A former senior company official recently gave police material about alleged loans that the company took from the Finance Ministry at the end of the 1990's to build homes in settlements. Such loans were available for homes built in isolated settlements and paid up once the houses are purchased. But due to mismanagement by the development company, not enough homes were built and a debt of 41 million shekels accrued.

Amana negotiated the debt with the Finance Ministry and the debt wound up being reduced to about 10 million shekels by 2009. The reduced debt led to the investigation two years ago into Yisrael Beitenu officials such as former deputy minister Faina Kirschenbaum, who retired from politics ahead of the 2015 elections.

A senior settlement official has recently given police material suggesting that Amana may have received a cut for the erased debt.

Amana's lawyer, Yaron Kostelitz, said "Amana has done nothing wrong, and all its activities were done properly and with utmost transparency. There is no doubt that this is what the investigation will find."