Yisrael Beytenu’s Avigdor Liberman .
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Defense Minister Avgidor Liberman told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday that his Austrian billionaire patron Martin Schlaff did not contact him on his visit to Israel this week, and that he was unaware that he was in the country.
On Tuesday, the Post had learned that the mysterious billionaire, who has been tied to Liberman, paid a quick visit to Israel that coincided with Liberman’s swearing-in to his new post.
Schlaff had been barred from entering Israel for many years, because he was suspected in a series of corruption cases. But when Liberman was acquitted of fraud and breach of trust charges in November 2013, the case against Schlaff was closed as well.
Since then, he has been to Israel five or six times to visit family members who live in the Jewish state. A source who spoke to him on his visit said it was coincidental that his visit happened while Liberman received his dream job.
Schlaff has been the subject of a number of police investigations in Israel that focused on his relationships with Liberman and former prime minister Ariel Sharon.
Among the allegations, police suspect Schlaff operated a number of shell companies to illegally fund Liberman’s 2006 election campaign, and that he paid off a debt accrued by Sharon during his campaign for the Likud primary in 1999.
The billionaire loaned then-prime ministerial candidate Ehud Barak $600,000 in 1999 to use in case there would be a runoff race following a three-man contest between then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Barak, and Yitzhak Mordechai of the Center Party.
Ben Caspit of The Jerusalem Post
’s Hebrew sister publication Ma'ariv
reported in his column on Friday that even though Mordechai dropped out of the race, Barak never returned the loan.
In 1998, Schlaff joined Yasser Arafat in opening The Oasis Casino in Jericho. The casino quickly became a major hit with Israelis, who could not legally gamble within the Green Line. Despite its initial success, the Oasis closed its doors in 2000 following widespread violence in the West Bank with the outbreak of the second intifada.
In April 2010, Schlaff chose not to attend his father Haim’s funeral in Jerusalem, as he was unable to receive assurances from police that he would not be arrested if he came to Israel.
Ben Hartman contributed to this report.