Former Top Politician in Lieberman's Party Gets 10 Years in Prison for Bribery Scheme

Faina Kirshenbaum and fellow Yisrael Beiteinu member Rami Cohen get handed severe sentences for helping people obtain government funding and receiving kickbacks in return

Gur Megiddo
Gur Megiddo
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Faina Kirshenbaum in court, July 14, 2021.
Faina Kirshenbaum in court, July 14, 2021.Credit: Ofer Vaknin
Gur Megiddo
Gur Megiddo

The Tel Aviv District Court sentenced former Deputy Interior Minister Faina Kirshenbaum to 10 years in prison on Wednesday for accepting bribes in exchange for government funding.

The charges relate to a plan devised by Kirshenbaum’s Yisrael Beiteinu party to boost its political influence and to siphon off government funding for use by the party and for the personal use of party officials.

Kirshenbaum, who was the party’s secretary general, and others in the case, including former Agriculture Ministry director general Rami Cohen, were convicted of helping various people to obtain government funding and donations and receiving kickbacks in return. The scheme involved a variety of creative arrangements including fictitious employment, reimbursement of expenses and gifts. Cohen, who was a close associate of Yisrael Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman, the current Finance Minister, was sentenced to 30 months in prison in the case.

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In explaining the severe sentence for Kirshenbaum, District Court Judge Yaron Levy wrote that “law-abiding citizens should know that public funds are not up for grabs.” Kirshenbaum was also given a 12-month suspended sentence and fined 900,000 shekels ($274,000), while Cohen was fined 180,000 shekels and given an 18-month suspended sentence.

Rami Cohe, the former director of the Agriculture Ministry who was convicted in the Yisrael Beiteinu affairCredit: Ofer Vaknin

The prosecution had asked that the court to sentence her to 10 to 12 years in prison, while her lawyer had argued for three to six years. In the case of Cohen, the prosecution sought a five-year sentence while his lawyer had argued in favor of community service instead of a prison sentence.

Both defendants said they would appeal their sentences to the Supreme Court. Judge Levy agreed to delay the beginning of their prison terms until September 5 to enable them to file appeals.

In March, Kirshenbaum was found guilty of 17 counts of bribe-taking in the case, as well as four incidents involving soliciting bribes and three counts of fraud and breach of trust. Cohen was convicted of four bribery-related charges (including paying a bribe and serving as an intermediary for bribery), in addition to other offenses, among them aggravated fraud and aggravated forgery.

Between 2009 and 2014, Kirshenbaum had control of about 1.2 billion shekels of government funding that had been promised in the coalition agreement through which Yisrael Beiteinu joined the government and which the party had discretion to spend. In convicting Kirshenbaum, the court found that she had skimmed off 2 million shekels of the funding for herself and her party.

More than 100 suspects were interrogated in the massive criminal investigation of the case. Criminal charges were filed against 19 defendants, most of whom consented to plea agreements that spared them jail time.

Among the charges against Kirshenbaum was one in which it was found that she assisted the head of the Samaria regional council in raising 3.5 million shekels, in return for which she demanded that 1.5 million shekels be allocated for Yisrael Beiteinu’s use. The sums were collected through a variety of means, including the purchase of airlines tickets for her and her family, the funding of public relations services for her personal use and fictitious jobs for her children.

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