Massive scope of Yisrael Beiteinu corruption scandal revealed
Deputy minister Faina Kirschenbaum tied to numerous bribes; more than two dozen suspects, including former minister Stas Misezhnikov, remanded in court for charges including bribery, falsifying documents, and obtaining fraudulent benefits.
An aide for Yisrael Beitenu Deputy Minister Faina Kirschenbaum was arrested Thursday morning, a day after scores of suspects were taken to Rishon LeZion's Magistrate Court for remand extension in connection to the corruption scandal involving Avigdor Lieberman's party.
Numerous senior figures from government ministries and local councils are suspected of complicity in bribery, fraud, and breach of trust by funneling money to various organizations and foundations.
The modus operandi of the alleged scheme was as follows: a certain organization received a budget plus a bonus amount, with the understanding that the extra funds would either be returned to those pulling the strings or paid as compensation for appointing associates to certain positions. Numerous organizations came to understand that they had to provide kickbacks in exchange for a budget.
The anonymous individual who will serve as the state's witness in the case has already provided insider information to the police after working for months as an agent for the police and making secret recordings.
Faina Kirschenbaum, deputy to the interior minister and the general secretary of Yisrael Beiteinu, is suspected of accepting money, which was not deposited into her personal accounts, but rather as salaries for associates and relatives (apart from the appointment of her daughter to the Beef Cattle Growers Association, which is under investigation).
Kirschenbaum is suspected of receiving hundreds of thousands of shekels in kickbacks. In contrast to the other suspects, her conversations were not secretly recorded because of her official government position, but there was surveillance of her activities.
Kirschenbaum is a high-profile member of Yisrael Beiteinu and a close associate of Chairman Avigdor Lieberman. The bulk of the party's activities go through her, and she is involved in all its parliamentary and political moves.
Former minister of tourism Stas Misezhnikov is also suspected of accepting bribes, facilitating bribes, and cronyism. The court extended his remand by nine days.
Misezhnikov is alleged to have received bribes in exchange for transferring funds to various entities during his tenure as tourism minster. He is also suspected of facilitating additional incidents of bribery, and rigging bids worth millions of shekels for an associate. Among other things, he is being investigated for allegedly transferring millions of shekels from public funds to a tourism event, in exchange for cash.
Investigators organized a sting operation of sorts for Misezhnikov. After being arrested and questioned in a previous affair surrounding the tourism ministry, he was released without being told of the full extent of allegations against him. Police continued surveillance and recorded him incriminating himself.
Gershon Mesika, head of the Samaria Regional Council, is suspected of giving bribes, fraudulently obtaining benefits, theft by a public servant, and falsifying corporate records involving hundreds of thousands of shekels in his capacity as a member of the Samaria Development Company.
Mesika's attorney said the allegations are unrelated to his role as head of the council, and refer to work at the development company.
Alex Wiznitzer is suspected of facilitating bribery. In 2003-2010 he served as the director of the National Roads Company of Israel and later as chairman of the board of directors of the Mekorot water company. In August 2013 he was appointed chairman of the board at NTA, the entity in charge of creating a light rail system in central Israel, considered the largest infrastructure project in Israel which is expected to continue for decades and cost tens of billions of shekels.
Wiznitzer also volunteers in organizations that are religious in nature. Over the years, Wiznitzer – a descendant of the Vizhnitz Hasidic dynasty - has emphasized the religious aspect of his personality. In past interviews he said he often consults with Rabbi David Abuhatzeira.
David Godovsky, Yisrael Beiteinu's chief of staff, is suspected of bribery, facilitating bribes, conspiracy to commit a crime, fraudulently obtaining benefits under aggravated circumstances, and other charges.
Godovsky was treasurer of a foundation that aided new immigrants when Avigdor Lieberman, who chaired the foundation, was investigated in 1997 for allegedly borrowing NIS 111,155 from its coffers, most of which he did not return. The police then raided Godovsky's house, but most of the foundation's financial documents were not found.
Godovsky claimed at the time that Lieberman received a loan of NIS 30,000 and not 111,155, and that he returned it in cash. When asked what he did with the cash, he answered that he put it "under the mattress" for three years, because he didn't want the money to swallowed into the foundation's account, which was in overdraft.
According to reports made in 1997, Lieberman said during his questioning that investigators harassed Godovsky because they questioned his seven-year-old son while his parents were not at home. An acquaintance told Ynet that as general secretary, Godovsky fulfills a managerial and administrative role, and is responsible for logistics, administration, ceremonies, conventions, and the party applications center.
Dov Litvinoff, head of the Tamar Regional Council south of the Dead Sea, Mordechai Dahman, head of Megilot Regional Council and David Blau, secretary general of the Megilot Regional Council, are all suspected of bribing Kirschenbaum and others on several occasions in exchange for budgets.
Chaim Ben-Shushan, former director of the Samaria Development Company, is suspected of bribing Kirschenbaum, fraudulently obtaining benefits, theft by a public official, and falsifying corporate documents totaling hundreds of thousands of shekels while serving as director. His remand was extended until Tuesday.
Efi Peles, treasurer of Binyamin Regional Council, is suspected of bribing Kirschenbaum. His remand was extended until Sunday.
Doron Simchi, Chairman of the Handball League, is suspected of bribery, conspiracy to commit a crime, and illicit use of Yisrael Beiteinu funds. He was released to a 10-day house arrest.
Avner Koppel, former chair of the Basketball League, is suspected of bribery, obtaining fraudulent benefits, and falsifying corporate documents. He was released to a 10-day house arrest.
Moshe Kaliski, former director of the Maccabi Rishon LeZion basketball team was also arrested, and his remand was extended until Tuesday.
Yitzhak Borba, chairman of the municipal corporations, is suspected of bribery, and his remand was extended by five days.
The wave of arrests also included Amnon Lieberman, the communications advisor to the minister of agriculture; lobbyist Yisrael Yehoshua, and businessman Zion Zuaretz.
The last suspect to arrive in court was Ranit Kirschenbaum, daughter of the deputy minister. Her remand was extended by four days. The judge said "the claim is that the suspect took bribes in conjunction with her mother. There is a reasonable suspicion the crimes were committed." Her attorney said that "it's allowed for a child to receive money from a parent, and not all money she receives necessarily becomes a bribe."
In total, Rishon LeZion's magistrate court extended the remand of 24 suspects and released 4 under certain conditions.
Eli Senyor, Gilad Moreg, Michal Margalit, Ahiya Raved, Moran Azulay, Ilana Koriel, and Noam (Dabul) Dvir contributed to this report.