The “Pandora Papers” investigative project, which found that Likud lawmaker Nir Barkat holds stock in a company headquartered in a tax haven and has transferred his businesses to a blind trust run by his brother and longtime business partner, does not seem to raise any suspicion of criminality. But it does raise ethical questions that a powerful politician like Barkat must answer.
The first question is whether the attempt to avoid paying taxes through sundry legal-accounting maneuvers harms the public good and violates the most important expectation from a public figure: Giving preference to the public interest over his or her personal interests.
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The second issue concerns Barkat’s choice of his brother as the trustee of his blind trust, which seems like an attempt to bypass the legal ban on lawmakers holding shares directly in a business. Appointing his brother as trustee looks like a violation of a 2009 decision by the Ethics Committee, which states that MKs who before holding office were shareholders in a company must either sell or transfer control of the stock within six months of taking office “to a person who is not their relative,” or to place them in an independent and public blind trust.
This is not the first time that Barkat’s political-financial affairs raise questions. A comprehensive investigative report issued earlier this year showed how he used the great wealth he made as a high-tech investor to sponsor extravagant events for Likud members and pay for a large staff of advisers and political associates, including providing them jobs in companies owned by his family.
No one denies that Barkat’s financial resources provide him with a clear advantage over his less wealthy rivals in Likud and could very well help him become in a bid to become prime minister.
If he succeeds, Barkat will certainly not be the first wealthy person in the job. The present prime minister, Naftali Bennett, made it rich as a high-tech entrepreneur; Benjamin Netanyahu took pride in business deals that made him millions; and their predecessors, Ariel Sharon and Ehud Barak, also knew how to accumulate wealth and property. In the case of Ehud Olmert, amassing wealth even involved exploiting his political connections and crimes.
In addition to the regrettable fact that a wealthy candidate has advantages over others, we must not assume that the wealth the rich accumulated before their political life “immunizes” them from corruption. Corruption has brought many such rich politicians down, and is bringing down, many more. The only vaccination against corruption is more transparency, targeting conflicts of interest, strengthening oversight mechanisms and adapting better disclosure guidelines. If not, the rich politicians will only contribute to the illness of corruption.
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The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.