Hirchson Must Go

Odd money movements in his bank account. Millions stolen from a nonprofit orgnization. $200,000 in a suitcase

* He received irregular credit from Bank Yahav. The State Comptroller found irregularities to the tune of hundreds of thousands of shekels and lively traffic of cash via his account at Yahav.

* Under his very nose, millions upon millions were embezzled from NILI, a nonprofit organization that he chaired.

* While he chaired the Leumit healthcare fund, Leumit paid millions of shekels for absolutely no reason, as its managers later admitted, to an insurance agency owned by the National Workers Organization (NWO), which owns Leumit.

* Hirchson was caught trying to leave Poland with $200,000 cash stuffed in a suitcase.

And these are just some of the suspicions against Finance Minister Avraham Hirchson, but it's enough.

The former State Comptroller, Eliezer Goldberg, archived a chapter in his report on Bank Yahav. The chapter was on unusual credit terms that the bank extended to a government official. Now it can be told: the official was Hirchson, and the chapter never published shows very brisk movement of money, and irregularities that reached hundreds of thousands of shekels in his account. The comptroller found that the irregularities were extraordinary in scope even by Bank Yahav's terms.

The shelved chapter does not tie Hirchson crony Mickey Zoller, who chaired Yahav, to the problems in Hirchson's account, but the entire affair leaves one queasy. Especially because at the time, Hirchson was chairing the Knesset Finance Committee, where he continued to personally handle affairs concerning the banks, while his son Ofer Hirchson owed gargantuan amounts to those same banks.

Even if we assume that Hirchson is innocent of crime, there's a lot of smoke choking the public on. You can't just dismiss that story of that $200,000 in a suitcase that he tried to take out of Poland.

The money-laundering law rules that anybody wishing to transfer more than NIS 80,000 in cash over a border must report it. Now we realize that the finance minister himself tried to secretly transport more than double that amount into Israel ten years ago. True, Israel had no anti-money-laundering law back then: he committed no crime. But the rationale that motivated the legislator to rule that any international transfer worth more than NIS 80,000 demands explanation speaks for itself.

The finance minister's explanations for that cash-stuffed suitcase do nothing to relieve the public's anxiety. For instance, the explanation that the money derived from surplus payments by South American Jews to participate in the March of Life begs the question as to why the March of Life charged cash from participants at all. Did the March of Life turn into a mere conduit or rich foreign Jews to launder ill-gotten gains?

Even if it is not proven that Hirchson received envelopes stuffed with cash, as he is suspected of doing, what's been uncovered so far is enough to deeply undermine his public status. The way the NWO is being and has been managed would be a stain on any manager's resume, and certainly when speaking of a lofty person like the finance minister.

Now it's here, now it's gone

Under Hirchson's very nose, enormous sums, millions of shekels, were stolen from the nonprofit organization NILI.  At the very least, Hirchson failed to report the theft.

Meanwhile, Hirchson's crony Zoller ran the NWO and treated it like his own private fiefdom. Among other things his wife received half a million shekels a year from the organization. Audits show that Zoller received millions of shekels in pay from a subsidiary of the NWO - NIS 9 million from 2003 to 2006. Yet he was managing the subsidiary on a part-time basis: at the same time he was chairing Bank Yahav and the Leumit healthcare fund. That last he received straight from Hirchson himself.

While Hirchson chaired Leumit, it paid millions upon millions, for no reason, as its own managers later admitted, to an insurance agency that the NWO owned.

In other words, the chairman of the NWO and of Leumit was responsible for huge money transfers from Leumit to the NWO, at the expense of the health-tax payers.

Not enough? The State Comptroller is now looking into why Leumit installed an alarm system in Hirchson's home, apparently at its own expense.

And that is just a small part of the suspicions about Hirchson, but it's enough to make one sick to the stomach.

His conduct as leader of the NWO and of Leumit is no example of how to manage the public's money. It is enough to disqualify Hirchson from continuing to serve as Israel's finance minister. There is no reason to await a ruling from the attorney general. For the sake of the people, Hirchson must go.