Union Refuses to Cash 'Smelly' Hirchson Check

A day after National Workers Organization chairman Abraham Hirchson sent the group post-dated checks totaling NIS 1.6 million, the organization declared the move "did not smell right."

Hirchson sent the union checks on Monday, a day before he testified in court on embezzlement charges yesterday. This was his first time testifying.

The union said it was not going to deposit the checks at this time, and has asked the State Prosecutor's office for instructions.

"You know that tomorrow there's a court hearing so you try to return the money? Why didn't you return the money five years ago?" union director general Yair Shalem said yesterday.

Hirchson sent checks totaling the sum he has admitted to having received. In a letter he sent with the checks, Hirchson said the money had been given him in monthly installments against his retirement package, which he has not yet received. He also requested that an independent committee make a final calculation of his pension.

Tel Aviv District Court Judge Bracha Ofir-Tom also criticized the former finance minister's move. "Why did you see it proper to return money you contend he actually deserves?" she asked Hirchson's lawyer, Jacob Weinroth. Weinroth responded that for the sake of "public hygiene," the money should be in the union's account. "They have the money. If they decide we deserve it, we'll get it. If not, then we won't," he said.

The prosecutor, Eli Shwartz-Shoef, said, "The timing of this document speaks for itself and the considerations behind it. For us, a thief returning stolen money is a step in the right direction, and it doesn't matter why he did it."

At the beginning of his testimony yesterday, Hirchson said: "I am ashamed by how I received the money. I don't know what it was. Blindness, a lapse of judgment." Hirchson also said the media had "crushed" him since the affair broke two and a half years ago, but that "perhaps this is my penance."