Gregory Lerner Convicted of Fraud, Money-laundering in Plea Bargain

Set up companies named after multinationals and used them to bilk victims of a million dollars for "gas deal"

Gregory Lerner, who served nearly five years in prison for defrauding Russian banks of tens of millions of dollars, was convicted Sunday of fraud, money laundering, and forgery. His sting netted him more than $1 million, says the prosecution.

Lerner, 54, of Ashkelon, was found guilty of manipulating two businessmen into investing in imaginary petrol ventures, under a plea bargain in the Tel Aviv District Court.

During 2005, Lerner was accused of masquerading as the owner of well-known companies that import gas and oil. He did this by registering companies of the same names: Israel Pacific Petroleum and Petrobel.

The prosecution charges Lerner with forging contracts  and other documents in the name of his companies. With these method and assurances of enormous profits, Lerner received more than a million dollars from two investors - Simeon Svelikin and Oscar Katzenelson - for a "gas project". In practice, he did not invest the money but took it for himself.

To hide the source of the money, says the prosecution, Lerner deposited it under other names, which is a breach of the anti-money laundering laws. 

Originally Lerner was also charged with hindering prosecution by destroying documents. But under the plea bargain accepted today, that charge was quashed.

The court will only pass sentence in May, to give Lerner time to fulfill conditions of the plea bargain, including compensation for his victims and depositing an amount with the state. But he is expected to face prison.

In the past Lerner had been found guilty of fraud and bribery. He admitted to defrauding Russian banks of tens of millions of dollars, and of trying to bribe Israeli politicians to help him set up a Russo-Israeli bank. He was sentenced to six years in prison and an NIS 5 million fine.