The question that occupied police investigators and led to the launching of an investigation into Labor's presidential candidate Benjamin Ben-Eliezer
was how was he able to purchase an apartment worth NIS 8-9 million in a high-scale project in Jaffa.
Ynet learned that a "hot tip" about the funds Ben-Eliezer received recently reached the office of the Attorney General, Yehuda Weinstein, who passed it on to the head of the police's investigative division for a joint inquiry with the Tax Authority.
According to the information, Ben-Eliezer received millions of shekels for a long period of time while he was a member of the Knesset. However, the reasons the money was transferred to Ben-Eliezer were unclear.
Benjamin Ben-Eliezer (Photo: AP)
Some of the funds were deposited in bank accounts belonging to Ben-Eliezer's relatives, and transferred to him from there.
According to the information, the presidential candidate cashed a check worth hundreds of thousands of shekels at a bureau de change.
It is also suspected businessman Avraham Nanikashvili, who is in partnership with Jacky Ben-Zaken that was questioned earlier this month in the Ashdod port probe, gave Ben-Eliezer large sums of money.
The main point of contention between Ben-Eliezer and investigators was a NIS 1.2 million loan that he received from Nanikashvili. A police inquiry found that there was indeed a direct transfer of that sum from Nanikashvili's account to that of Ben-Eliezer's, and neither one denied this. Nanikashvili told investigators this was a loan he gave Ben-Eliezer so the latter could purchase the Jaffa apartment, and that the two signed a loan agreement in the presence of lawyers.
The high-scale building where Ben-Eliezer purchased his apartment (Photo: Dana Copell)
"Everything I gave (Ben-Eliezer) was within the boundaries of the law," Nanikashvili claimed.
His attorney, Natan Simhoni, added: "Mr. Nanikashvili was questioned, cooperated with his investigators and denied giving funds illegally to Mr. Ben-Eliezer. Because of the investigation's restrictions, at this point I cannot comment on the details of the allegations."
The businessman told investigators that he and Ben-Eliezer have been close friends for years, and that he visited Ben-Eliezer almost every day while the presidential candidate was hospitalized in critical condition.
Sources close to Nanikashvili said he was "helping a friend" and described him as a wealthy person who donates a lot of money and seeks nothing in return.
Avraham Nanikashvili after being questioned on Friday (Photo: Avi Mualem)
While Ben-Eliezer was at first unwilling to give Nanikashvili's name, he later confirmed it was the businessman who gave him money when the investigators told him they knew it was Nanikashvili.
The presidential candidate also confirmed that he did indeed receive the money as a loan in order to purchase the apartment, and that the money was not in return for anything he has done for Nanikashvili.
Despite the fact both men's versions matched, investigators continue their inquiry into the nature of what they consider to be an abnormal loan, to check whether Ben-Eliezer used his senior position in the house of legislators to provide some form of return for the money.
At the end of the day of questioning, sources in the police said Ben-Eliezer will likely be unable to campaign for the presidency next week.
Police is planning a speeded-up investigation, and might call Ben-Eliezer again for questioning under caution on Saturday evening.
The investigation was launched after police and the tax authority examined the information that reached the attorney general's office. In a meeting held on Wednesday, Weinstein and senior police officers decided to call Ben-Eliezer in to testify. Investigators were authorized to call him in for questioning in the future as well.
National Fraud Investigations Unit officers asked Ben-Eliezer to come in to give a short testimony on Friday morning, but the investigation quickly became under caution.
Sources involved in the investigation said Ben-Eliezer encountered difficulties in giving answers. In some cases he claimed he can't remember what the source of the money was, and in others he distanced himself from the affair, which made investigators doubt his testimony.
Legal sources said the issue of a possible postponement of the presidential elections could be raised at the Knesset, and that the Knesset's legal adviser will have to address the issue.
There may be a motion to postpone the elections until the end of the investigation against Ben-Eliezer in order to prevent a case in which the investigation, that might end without an indicement, dramatically affects the selection of the next president. The attorney general, they said, will not have to address the issue of postponing the elections, as this was an internal matter of the Knesset.
To that end, Weinstein briefed the Knesset's legal adviser, Eyal Yinon, several times throughout the day Friday.