Zionist Union leader questioned under caution as part of probe into graft case

Opposition leader tells ‘Post’ probe will only strengthen him.

April 17, 2016 15:37
3 minute read.

Labor Party chief Isaac Herzog at Jerusalem Post office in Jerusalem. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog expressed confidence in a phone interview Sunday with The Jerusalem Post that he will not be brought down by a criminal investigation against him or by politicians in his party.

Herzog spoke hours after he was questioned under caution for the first time Sunday as part of an investigation into allegations of campaign fund-raising violations. Police asked him questions for more than five hours at the Lod headquarters of the special police unit Lahav 433.

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Following the interrogation, the opposition leader expressed satisfaction that he is suspected not of the serious charge of bribery but only of the lesser charges of accepting illegal contributions, failure to report a contribution and filing a false declaration to the state comptroller. Herzog’s associates said he was not surprised by any of the questions.

“You have to go through the motions,” he said. “It was simple.

There was a complaint, I answered questions and I am okay. I have gotten a lot of support from my faction and rank-and-file in an impressive way. People don’t like this conniving stuff, this looking for blood.”

Herzog was supposedly hinting at former Labor leader Shelly Yacimovich, whom he defeated in the 2013 party primary in which he is being accused of receiving an illegal contribution from a company that paid a strategist named Danny Cohen to try to harm her reputation.

“Believe me, I am relaxed and you should relax, and if there is someone who is not relaxed they should relax,” Herzog said, referring to Yacimovich at a rally of his party’s faction at the Histadrut labor federation offices Sunday in Tel Aviv.

“It has not been easy lately, but whatever does not kill you, makes you stronger.”

Yacimovich vexed Herzog by reacting to his questioning, saying: “There is no doubt that the party chairman being questioned under caution worsens the situation,” and suggesting that, as a result, steps will have to be taken.

Herzog surprisingly received support Sunday from Bayit Yehudi MK Bezalel Smotrich, who said that if the Zionist Union leader is only being accused of the charges reported, the police should close the file.

“It would be a sad day if they indict an elected official on such minutia,” Smotrich said. “This is not corruption or gaining money personally improperly. The public interest in enabling a democratic decision is much more important.”

The Justice Ministry on Sunday confirmed it had intentionally not informed the media that the initial review of Herzog had changed to a full criminal investigation despite numerous inquiries last week.

The Post asked how Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit had decided not to notify the media. A ministry spokesman said: “There are tactical factors in an investigation. Sometimes you can notify in advance and sometimes you cannot until after taking action.”

By doing so, the police and attorney- general questioned Herzog under caution without him having significant time to prepare.

Questioning under caution is more aggressive because it attempts to solicit criminal admissions that can potentially be used as a confession at trial.

Channel 10 reported late Sunday night that the root of the fraud or cover-up that Herzog is suspected of was connected to NIS 40,000 that was said to have been paid to Cohen. The police say the so-called payment to Cohen for legal services was a cover for paying that sum to do opposition research against Yacimovich in the Labor primary.

According to Channel 10, a key moment in the questioning of Herzog was when Shimon Batat, who was Herzog’s campaign manager, told them that “everyone knew” about the funds being used for opposition research – implying that Herzog knew, as well.

In contrast, Herzog is expected to have said that he did not know, and that Cohen acted out of his own personal interest.

In response, the police plan to question Batat again on Monday over what appears to be a contradiction in their stories about who knew what.

Overall, at this point, the Herzog camp, at least on a legal level, is believed to be satisfied that he has been treated respectfully by the police and without leaks, which often come out of police investigations of public officials. His camp is also believed to view the latest developments as no legal bombshell and is happy that the questioning was relatively short.

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