Israel Police Recommend Charging Three Arab Lawmakers With Fraud, Money Laundering

The three are all members of Balad, which is part of Joint List, Israel's third largest party in Knesset ■ Police link alleged offenses to 2013 and 2015 election contributions, expenses

Haneen Zoabi and Jamal Zahalka during a party meeting, 2016.
Abdullah Shama

Israeli Police said on Tuesday it has found enough evidence to indict three Arab lawmakers with corruption charges. The three - Haneen Zoabi, Jamal Zahalka and Joumah Azbarga - are all members of Balad, a faction of the Arab-majority Joint List, Israel's third largest party in Knesset.

Police announced it recommends charging the three with fraud, money laundering, forgery, breach of trust and additional counts. The case has been transferred to the State Prosecutor's Office for a final decision.

In a statement, police said it has "concluded an extensive investigation into the Balad party and other central officials," noting that its focus was reports submitted to the State Comptroller's Office about contributions to the 2013 election campaign and reports on expenditures in the 2015 elections.

"With the conclusion of the investigation, the unit in charge believes it
found sufficient evidence against party officials," the statement said.

The police said it looked the suspicion that members of Balad had raised cash donations without submitting the required paperwork signed by the donors, as required by law when dealing with cash contributions. When asked by the State Comptroller's Office, the forms were filled retroactively. 

Balad rejected the accusations, calling them "a dangerous escalation of the political persecution of the Arab leadership, following on the unbridled incitement by politicians against Arab parties."

The party stated: "Balad vehemently rejects the alleged suspicions against its activists or members. The police are trying to turn alleged administrative or financial improprieties during the election campaign into a criminal matter in order to balance recommendations regarding Netanyahu."

The party stressed that "no one in Balad is suspected of or being investigated about receiving favors or money for themselves." The statement added, "Balad is confident that the suspicions will turn out to be baseless at the end of the day."

Joumah Azbarga joined Knesset after the resignation of Basel Ghattas, who was convicted as part of a plea deal last March over smuggling cellphones and documents to security prisoners.

Ghattas was convicted on charges of fraud, breach of trust, providing material support for the perpetuation of an act of terror and smuggling a prohibited letter and electronic equipment into a prison. He said that his actions were motivated by conscience.

Under the plea deal, Ghattas will serve a two-year prison sentence.