(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
The trial of ex-defense minister and Labor power broker Binyamin Ben-Eliezer began Monday at the Tel Aviv District Court, with the former presidential candidate facing charges of bribery, money- laundering, fraud, breach of public trust and tax offenses.
Ben-Eliezer did not attend the hearing on Monday, after Judge George Karra approved a request by his attorneys to allow the hearing to be held in absentia because of his poor health.
In court on Monday, Ben- Eliezer’s attorney Jacob Weinroth said his client denies the charges listed in the indictment.
The next hearing in the trial is to be held April 10.
In December, he was indicted along with five others, including businessmen Jacky Ben-Zaken, Charlie Yehuda, Roi Mutzafi, Avraham Nanikashvili and Ben-Eliezer’s former bureau chief, Ayelet Azoulay.
Ben-Eliezer failed to convince then-attorney-general Yehuda Weinstein of his innocence during a pre-indictment hearing, a special procedure held for former public officials.
The charges cover events between 2007 and 2014, when Ben-Eliezer was the national infrastructure minister.
The indictment accuses him of accepting large bribes from a series of associates to help advance their business interests. He allegedly laundered millions of shekels through buying real estate and funneling money to relatives through currency exchange businesses.
During the investigation, police found NIS 2,142,000 in a safe-deposit box belonging to him at a Jerusalem bank.
He received illegally acquired funds from real estate developer and co-defendant Mutzafi to lobby on his behalf with Egyptian officials he was close to, to help advance a real estate project in Egypt, according to the indictment.
These funds included NIS 500,000 that Ben-Eliezer used to buy a multi-million-shekel house in Jaffa.
He requested around an additional NIS 1.3 million for purchasing the house, but Mutzafi refused. Though he denied that request, Mutzafi did provide an additional NIS 260,000 to Ben-Eliezer, which he used to purchase a separate Ness Ziona property for his wife and son.
In 2011, Ben-Eliezer received around $400,000 from oil magnate and co-defendant Nanikashvili for assisting him during a tax probe.
Ben-Eliezer resigned from public service in December 2014 at 78 years old, ending decades as a public servant.
The case against him broke just before the presidential election in June 2014, before which he was expected to be a front-runner for the office. The investigation all but killed his bid to be president.