Former Bank Hapoalim chairman Dan Dankner's long legal battle to stay free from prison has reached its end with the Supreme Court's Thursday decision to cut his prison sentence from 12 to 8 months, but not to throw out the sentence as he had requested.
With no higher authority to make additional appeals, Dankner will begin serving his sentence on August 17 at Ayalon Prison.
On June 2, Dankner had tried to convince the Supreme Court to drop his one-year prison sentence for breach of public trust.
The Tel Aviv District Court handed down the sentence in December 2013. Dankner had been convicted in October 2013 as part of a plea bargain that struck the more serious charges of money-laundering, impure ethical practices and harming the bank’s interests, and left the issue of his punishment open to argument.
Under the deal, he agreed to pay a NIS 1 million penalty.
The state successfully convinced the lower court to give Dankner a one-year prison term, though he had tried to convince the lower court to give him only community service.
His conviction and sentence completed the extraordinary downfall of a man who was part of a tiny group of tycoons viewed as having outsized influence on a range of national issues.
The conviction related to a number of incidents in which he acted with a conflict of interest, withholding from Bank Hapoalim’s board that he had a partnership with other parties that had dealings with the bank.
In one instance, he withheld that he had a financial interest in another company with which Bank Hapoalim was having a dispute. He used his power on both sides of the dispute to set the compensation that the other company would pay the bank at NIS 25m., raising questions about whether he had kept the sum low so as not to damage his interests in the other company.
At the hearing, Dankner’s lawyer, Jacob Weinroth, told the Supreme Court that sending Dankner to jail at all was unprecedented for a low-grade crime like breach of trust, especially since Dankner was not a public servant, but a mere private-sector official. In other words, he argued, it might be understandable to jail a public servant who abuses the general public’s trust, but Dankner’s crime of abusing only the financial trust of private-sector investors was far less serious.
The attorney contended that Bank Hapoalim had even made a profit on Dankner’s criminal actions and that despite theoretical scenarios where his breach of trust could have harmed investors, there had been no such harm.
Next, he noted that Dankner was getting a harsher punishment than a mere suspended sentence with no jail time and no community service, which is what former prime minister Ehud Olmert received for a similar crime in the Investments Affair during the July 2012 Jerusalem corruption trial.
Dankner’s lawyer further emphasized that Dankner’s very downfall and loss of power was in and of itself a harsh punishment, which the lower court had ignored.
The three-justice Supreme Court panel of Elyakim Rubinstein, Salim Joubran and Esther Hayot seemed mostly unimpressed with Weinroth’s arguments, reminding him that Dankner had not been just any private sector official, but, as chairman of Bank Hapoalim, probably the most powerful private official in the country.
The state emphasized this point in asking the court to uphold the prison sentence, stating not only that Dankner deserved a harsher punishment because of his high office, but that banks, especially in Israel, were quasi-public companies. In other words, the state said, Dankner’s actions were unusually deserving of a harsh punishment even for a private official because he had undermined faith in the banking system.
When the Tel Aviv District Court sentenced the former bank chairman to prison time for fraud, breach of trust, violation of proper management of Bank Hapoalim and illegal receipt of funds and loans, he became one of the most powerful men in the country ever to be sentenced to jail time.
However, on March 31, he was sentenced on bribery charges to another three-and-a-half years in prison, as well as NIS 1.5 million in fines and asset seizures, for his involvement in the Holyland Affair.
Dankner has announced an appeal in that case as well.