Money Changer Guilty of Laundering for Funds Transfer to Bishara

Court convicts East J'lem man for helping former Balad MK secretly receive $390,000 from unnamed Arab state.

Jerusalem District Court on Sunday convicted Firas Asila, a 29-year-old money changer from East Jerusalem, of money laundering for transferring $390,000 from an unnamed Arab country to former Balad MK Azmi Bishara.

Bishara, who fled the country over six months ago, is suspected of financial and security-related crimes.

The conviction followed a plea agreement between Asila and the State Prosecutor's Office financial crimes department. According to the agreement, Asila Brothers Ltd., which is partly owned by Asila, was removed from the indictment and will not face legal action.

The prosecution will ask the court to sentence Asila to eight months in prison as well as a suspended term, while the defendant will ask for six months of community service and a suspended term. The state also confiscated several thousand skekels from Asila.

According to the indictment, in 2006, Bishara asked Asila to help him transfer funds from an Arab country through Jordan. Asila agreed and approached a money changer he knew in Amman.

Bishara asked Asila to conceal the fact that he was the recipient of the money, and therefore asked Asila to tell the Jordanian that the money was intended to him and not to ask the courier about the source of the funds.

At Bishara's request, Asila gave him the funds directly in bills. When Bishara wanted the money in shekels, they agreed he would tell Asila he wanted the "books in Hebrew."

A Balad statement said in response that the conviction constitutes a "dirty deal" meant to harm Bishara. "It shows how far the Shin Bet is willing to go when it comes to political persecution," party members said.