Danny Dankner Has First Day in Court

Judge questions key part of indictment against former Hapoalim chairman: if he was empowered to negotiate, why cavil at the outcome?

The trial of one of the most powerful figures in Israeli business on fraud-related charges got under way in Tel Aviv District Court on Thursday, with the prosecution claiming that former Bank Hapoalim chairman Danny Dankner damaged the bank's reputation and finances.

As the two sides made their opening remarks, prosecutor Tal Farjun said that "Dankner's activities, when they constituted conflicts of interest, hurt the bank in several ways: its reputation, its finances, managerial integrity and proper management norms."

A list of 129 prosecution witnesses, which includes a who's who of Israel's rich and famous, promises to make the Dankner trial a riveting affair when it begins in earnest in January. Dankner served as Hapoalim's chairman for two stints between 1997 and 2009.

Judge George Karra posed a question concerning the first of four indictments against Dankner, which accuses him of breach of trust and conflict of interest when he acted as intermediary in negotiations between Hapoalim and Rafi Berber. Dankner is also charged in the indictment with fraud and harming the proper management of the bank's business.

Dankner is alleged not to have reported that he had business ties with Berber's company, Elran Investments, while he was negotiating terms for Berber's compensation for his role in helping Hapoalim to buy Turkey's BankPozitif.

"According to the indictment, the bank's management consented to have Dankner reach a compromise with Berber on the amount that he was supposed to receive, even more. Where does the prosecution see a problem?" the judge asked.

Farjun responded: "It is correct that the amount was in his authority to close [an agreement]. Our claim is that we can't know how much the bank was hurt or not hurt. The accused [Dankner] should have been the last one to conduct the negotiations in the bank's name. Our judgment relates to situations in which the accused is in a senior position, a conflict of interest, and we cannot know with how much discretion they were acting."

Farjun said the prosecution was not claiming that Dankner gave Berber and his company more than they deserved: "He didn't violate the mandate that the bank gave him. But we can never know what another person, who was not tainted by conflict of interest, would have agreed with Rafi Berber."

Dankner's attorneys said they and their client sought to wind up the trial as quickly as possible, but denied the charges were valid.

"The indictment takes important business events for which Bank Hapoalim takes all responsibility and relates to them as bribery," said attorney Navot Telzur, who is part of Dankner's defense team. "Dankner didn't bribe anyone and no criminal file exists here. One can disagree about how the chairman of Bank Hapoalim conducted himself, but he did nothing criminal."

The second indictment includes charges of fraud concerning the Dutch DHB Bank, breach of trust toward Hapoalim, receiving goods by means of fraud, taking action with forbidden property, fraud, corporate breach of trust and misconduct.

The third charge includes receiving credit by means of fraud from Bank Hapoalim, as well as receiving goods by means of fraud and taking action with forbidden property.

The fourth indictment concerns using his personal secretary's bank account for his own needs. Transactions in his secretary Hagit Malka's account reached some NIS 13.8 million. Dankner is charged with money laundering in this case.