Eight Histadrut Heads Suspected of Graft Through Hotel Vacations

Eight incumbent and former executives of the Histadrut labor federation received draft indictments yesterday for suspected corruption, mainly for staying at top-tier hotels for free. Tel Aviv prosecutors will hold hearings for the eight before reaching a decision on pressing charges against all, some or none.

The eight are suspected of graft by accepting free vacations at luxury hotels in Eilat, Tiberias or in the Dead Sea area for themselves or cronies, wrote Prosecutor Mia Barel in the drafts.

Arnon Ben-David
Dan Keinan

The hotel vacations had been paid for by the companies Miniv and Shahar On, she accuses. These are companies run by nonprofit organizations for professional training, which in turn operated under the auspices of the National Clerical Union (now known as the Maof ).

"The suspects knowingly accepted free hospitality for the hotels in exchange for services that the suspects extended in the regular course of their jobs," Barel wrote.

Who's who on the list

Four of the suspects are still in office. One is Arnon Ben-David, chairman of the clerical workers' union. An associate of Histadrut chairman Ofer Eini, Ben-David formerly served as chairman of the Tel Aviv municipality workers.

Two hail from labor organizations of the health care services: Prosper Ben-Hamo, chairman of the National Organization of Kupat Holim Workers, and Pnina Fahima, chairwoman of the Cooperative Society of Kupat Holim Workers.

Leon Ben-Lulu, head of the Likud faction in the Histadrut, is also named. He's also a member of the Ashdod city council and in the past ran in elections to lead the Histadrut.

Four other suspects have retired from government service. One is Moshe Mizrahi, who had led the Haifa municipality labor committee. Moshe Suissa had chaired the national firefighters union.

Suspect Rachel Koren had been bureau chief for Amir Peretz when he chaired the Histadrut. The name of the eighth suspect, also from the clerical union, was not immediately available.

Princessly hospitality

Ben-David, the prosecution says, accepted free hospitality three times from 2003 to 2005, at the Princess Hotel in Eilat and Crown Plaza Hotel in the Dead Sea area - at a total cost of NIS 27,000.

Ben-Hamo and Fahima are suspected of accepting 10 free hotel nights at the Peer Hotel in Eilat and at a Tiberias hotel.

Six other suspects are believed to have accepted free hotel stays as well.

Koren is suspected of accepting a discount for 19 nights at hotels in Eilat, paying NIS 41,700 instead of NIS 146,300.

Suspicions that the associations had corrupt relations with top people at the Histadrut had been exposed a decade ago by Meir Babayoff, chairman of the Histadrut's Negev region. Babayoff wrote to the registrar of associations at the time, warning that "associations are being established using workers' money in a manner that opens the door to corruption" and abuse of "Mapai-style" slush funds.

In 2008, the police questioned Suissa including suspected corruption and an attempt to set up a brothel. He was also suspected of employing firemen to do private jobs for him. Suissa denied the allegations.

"This whole thing is complete nonsense," Ben-David said last night. "These are marginal claims drawn from the past. I have no doubts that I acted properly." Ben-David has no intention of suspending himself from office, he said.

Ben-Hamo said, "The prosecution can write whatever it wants. My lawyer will respond."

Fahima added, "It's strange that after all these years, it occurs to somebody to level such accusations. I just received the prosecution's notice today. All public figures like me need to know they're exposed to such things."

Ben-Lulu said he remembers being questioned by police about hospitality at hotels. "I gave the police clear answers," he said. "In my opinion, the purpose of the prosecution now is to obtain clarifications from us, not to press charges."