Witness: I Left Blank Checks for Union Boss

A witness in the embezzlement trial of former finance minister Abraham Hirchson said he never thought twice about being asked to leave dozens of signed blank checks with Ovadia Cohen, the former head of the National Workers Organization's finance division.

"When I would go on vacation or abroad or on sick leave, I would be called in by Mr. Cohen, Ovadia, so as not to delay the ongoing work, and he would ask [me] to sign several checks, since it's a hard-working and effervescent institution, so as not to delay proceedings," Avraham Aisha testified before the Tel Aviv District Court yesterday.

Aisha heads the Leumit health maintenance organization's workers union, which is affiliated with the National Workers Organization.

Aisha also said that budgetary matters at the National Workers Organization, which was headed by Hirchson at the time, appeared to be functioning efficiently.

Hirchson stands accused of embezzling some NIS 2.5 million from the union and from Nili, a nonprofit association affiliated with it. Cohen, a key figure in the case, was sentenced earlier this month to four years and eight months in prison for stealing NIS 10 million.

The judge asked Aisha whether he had inquired about what Cohen intended to do with the checks, but Aisha said he had known Cohen for a long time and never questioned the requests.

"Your honor, I have known this man since his youth, when he was an emissary for Hanoar Haoved [a youth group]," Aisha said. "He has a grandfather who's the head of a rabbinical court, a father who heads a yeshiva, and he advanced. And there was no suspicion, really not even the slightest suspicion, that things would come to what I hear in the media and on TV. He said there was VAT, income tax to pay ... I wasn't in a position to ask questions. If I was asked, I signed."