(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
A personal assistant to Yisrael Beytenu MK Faina Kirschenbaum was arrested Thursday morning on suspicion of being involved in a far-reaching corruption scandal that is already being referred to as one of the biggest cases in the history of the state.
Parliamentary aide Victoria Rabin is accused of being part of the conspiracy through which Kirschenbaum and other Yisrael Beytenu officials received bribes and kickbacks from tax money, budgeted under false pretenses to a series of NGOs and local authorities.
The case also involves allegations of widespread money laundering, falsification of documents and breach of trust.
Rabin’s arrest brings the number of suspects that the police have so far brought in, to 29, including Kirschenbaum, former tourism minister Stas Meseznikov, David “Dawood” Godovsky, the head of the Yisrael Beytenu central committee, and Amnon Lieberman, spokesman for the party’s Agriculture Minister Yair Shamir. The suspects also include the head of the Anti-Drug Authority Yair Geller, Avner Kopel, the former head of the Israel Basketball Super League and Doron Simchi, the head of the Israel Handball Association. Four of those detained have been released to house arrest, while the rest remain in custody.
It was also revealed for publication on Thursday that the suspects include Rami Cohen, secretary- general of the Agriculture Ministry, and his wife, Batya.
They are both being held on charges of giving and receiving bribes.
Due to her parliamentary immunity, Kirschenbaum has not been placed under arrest, though on Wednesday she underwent questioning for several hours by investigators from the police anti-fraud unit.
The arrests made Wednesday morning came following what police described as a yearlong undercover investigation. They would neither confirm nor deny reports that there was a state’s witness who blew open the case and worked as a police source throughout the investigation.
The primary case is made up of 15 separate investigations involving people from across Israel. In each of them, Kirschenbaum is believed to have played a lead role.
While each one of the cases is different, none of them involve extortion where local authority heads were forced to pay bribes to receive their budgets.
Police say the system was much more sophisticated than that, and that it consisted of tenders and budgets sent to authorities and NGOs on the initiative of Kirschenbaum, Rabin, Kirschenbaum’s daughter Ranit, Godovsky, and others, with official approval from the Knesset and the Finance Ministry. The money was sent to those bodies under false pretenses, with a percentage of the funds later being kicked back up the chain to Godovsky and Kirschenbaum.
In many cases, police suspect the bodies who received the funds agreed to give jobs to people close to the Yisrael Beytenu officials and others at the top of the pyramid.
Many of those arrested so far, are being held on suspicion of paying bribes to Kirschenbaum and others, in the form of money from earmarked budgets that were given to them. Some are also accused of pocketing a portion of the money sent from state coffers and of receiving bribes in the form of tax dollars.
In other cases, local authorities or NGOs allegedly agreed to hire the services of people close to Kirschenbaum and other top officials in the conspiracy, or people they had business dealings with.
In court on Thursday, Geller’s attorney asked police about claims that he signed an agreement for a certain company to win an advertising contract with the Anti-Drug Authority as a kick-back. Police did not confirm the allegation in court.
Police said they could not rule out further arrests but did not expect more in the coming days.