Rights Group Asks Court to Suspend Hirchson Over Corruption Probe

PM: Hirchson to remain finance minister unless AG says otherwise; police: NIS 1m deposited in Hirchson's bank account.

The Movement for Quality Government has petitioned the High Court of Justice to suspend Finance Minister Abraham Hirchson over allegations that he may have embezzled funds to finance political activity in the Likud party, Israel Radio reported on Monday.

Police investigators say that large sums of money, totaling NIS 1 million, were deposited into Hirchson's bank account several times in the beginning of the decade.

Police also investigated monetary transfers to and from the account of Ofer Hirchson, the finance minister's son, and found that they match transactions made to and from his father's account.

During his questioning last week, Hirchson gave initial explanations regarding the source of the funds, and investigators have spent the last few days looking into these explanations. Hirchson will have to answer further questions regarding the monetary transactions during his second round of questioning, which has yet to be scheduled.

According to associates of Hirchson, the finance minister will make a decision regarding his political future only after the investigation against him has ended.

"He needs to see exactly what he is being charged with before he makes a decision. Until then he is the finance minister, unless the attorney general instructs otherwise."

In the meantime, Hirchson is trying to return to his routine. He took part in the weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday, and then continued on to the Finance Ministry.

Associates of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert agreed that until the attorney general decides other wise, "Abraham Hirchson is the finance minister."

Nevertheless, Olmert is preparing for the possibility that he will have to appoint a successor to Hirchson. Some of the names that have been mentioned as candidates are Interior Minister Roni Bar-On, former justice minister Haim Ramon (if his conviction is overturned) and Housing Minister Meir Sheetrit. It is also possible that Olmert will choose to appoint a professional non-political figure.

The Kadima party has continued to back Hirchson, although there is criticism that his stay in politics is hurting both Kadima and the finance ministry. Many Kadima members assess that Hirchson will be forced to resign in the near future.

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