Watchdog Demands Investigation Into Alleged Favors From Cleaning and Security Firm to Top Politicians

The Movement for Quality Government in Israel asked yesterday that both Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein and Police Commissioner David Cohen investigate suspicions that public officials received benefits from the cleaning and security company "Merhav" in exchange for assisting the company.

A decision by Jerusalem Magistrate's Court judge Dov Pollock in a bribery trial against two former employees and two public servants stated that the police and prosecution services should have more thoroughly investigated suspicions benefits were also granted to elected officials, including ministers Benjamin Ben-Eliezer and Yuval Steinitz. Similar suspicions were also raised against former ministers Nissim Dahan and Aryeh Deri.

"It's inconceivable that a judge thinks there is potential evidence necessitating further investigation and the police won't pick up the gauntlet," the watchdog's chairman Eliad Shraga said yesterday. "It's true that the national fraud investigation unit's office is crowded these days, but this issue can't just slip off the agenda."

In a letter to the attorney general and police commissioner, the movement said, "The matter should be checked thoroughly, especially considering that the issue was raised by a judge with appropriate knowledge and experience after examining material brought to his attention."

Ben-Eliezer's office said in response that "Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer never received any cleaning services from this company, most certainly not for free."

Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz's office released a statement saying that he was "never a party to the legal process to which his name has been attached, and wasn't even aware of the process until the newspaper's request for a comment. There has been only one cleaning engagement ordered by MK Steinitz's wife from her sister and brother-in-law, who was one of the owners of the company at the time. Finally, it should be made perfectly clear that minister Steinitz never - neither as a MK nor as a minister - did anything in any way to promote the interests of the Merhav company."

Dahan said he never employed anyone without pay, and that the claims were without foundation. Deri said that he never received any cleaning services, and doesn't even know the company.

The state prosecution service said in response that anything not stated in the original indictment was mere hearsay and rumor, adding the judge was not made aware of all the evidence, as the case was still ongoing.

Police said the investigation was thorough, and that it was forwarded to the prosecution after sufficient evidence for an indictment had been found. "The police will study the judge's decision," a police statement said.