Dozens of Israeli Highway Corporation Employees Suspected of Wide-scale Corruption

30 suspects from the Israel National Roads Company were informed they face possible criminal prosecution for alleged bribery, tax offenses and money laundering

Israel's Highway 1 on December 17, 2017.
Gil Cohen-Magen

Roughly two years after the public became aware of a criminal investigation into alleged wrongdoing at the Israel National Roads Company, the state prosecutor’s office informed 30 suspects and 13 companies Tuesday that they face possible criminal prosecution subject to a pre-indictment hearing in a wide-scale corruption case involving alleged bribery, tax offenses and money laundering.

One of the suspects is Alex Vizhnitzer, former director general of the National Roads Company. The company is the government corporation responsible for planning and construction of the country’s interurban highways as well as Israel’s rail network. It's known in Hebrew as Netivei Israel, or simply as the Public Works Department.

Vizhnitzer is suspected of taking bribes, extortion by threat, money laundering and tax violations. Another former director general of the government corporation, Shai Baras, is facing suspicions of fraud and breach of trust. Among the other suspects is a former Likud Knesset member, Michael Gorlovsky, who is suspected of bribery.

Alex Vizhnitzer is accused in part of accepting bribes over a period of years from company Bibi Kvishim, one of the Israel Road Company’s contractors. Baras issued a statement calling the harm caused to his “liberty and property” and reputation disproportionate to his indictment by the prosecutor's office for breach of trust alone, saying also that he will prove his innocence. Vizhnitzer’s lawyer, Natan Simchony, said he is convinced that, following the pre-indictment hearing, the case against his client will be closed.

According to the prosecutor’s office, investigators have developed evidence of major corruption at the National Roads Company over a period of more than a decade involving staff at various levels, including managerial positions. Prosecutors also said the case includes criminal conduct by planners, contractors and service providers working with the company.

The case's investigation was transferred to the prosecutor’s office in August of last year after the police developed evidence allegedly implicating 40 suspects and 11 businesses. Although it has now been decided to conduct pre-indictment hearings for 30 suspects, the prosecutor’s office said a decision will be made shortly with regard to possible legal action against additional individuals including Israel Yehoshua, a lobbyist and political activist, who has been questioned in the case.

Among the others of whom prosecutors have not yet decided how to proceed is Dan Vizhnitzer, the former road company director general’s son, and Mohammed Musrawa, one of the owners of the contracting firm Einav Hahetz.

The case against Sima Levy-Shalom, a former deputy legal adviser and former acting legal adviser at the National Roads Company, and against the daughter of former Foreign Minister David Levy have been closed for lack of evidence. Her prior arrest on suspicion of fraudulent receipt and breach of trust was particularly shocking due to her senior role at the company and sensitive role she played there as a senior lawyer. She had been dismissed from the National Roads Company following her arrest along with 12 other suspects at the time. Seventeen other employees arranged to resign voluntarily.

The case has focused on the system through which the company made bids for contracts, long considered problematic and criticized in reports issued by the state comptroller’s office. The common denominator in the investigation involves how state funds have been spent and the allegation that National Roads Company employees have furthered the interests of figures at the government company in exchange for various benefits, while exploiting their access to huge sums of money and control over thousands of projects around the country. Investigators have impounded thousands of documents and about 100 million shekels ($28.6 million) worth of property.

Baras is suspected of acting, along with his assistant, to hire Yehoshua as a company supplier at the alleged request of Alex Vizhnitzer, despite that fact that Yehoshua’s services were purportedly not needed by the company. The police have collected evidence indicating that Baras’ assistant, Golan Davidi, was the contact person between Baras and the contractors.

Davidi’s name did not appear on an earlier police list of suspects, however. It was particularly surprising that he is in the sights of the prosecutor’s office as he has since returned to work at the National Roads Company and was appointed by the company’s current director general, Nissim Perez, as his bureau chief.