Former Bank Hapoalim chairman Dan Dankner’s legal battle reached its conclusion on Thursday with the Supreme Court’s decision not to cancel but to cut his prison sentence from 12 months to eight.
On June 2, Dankner had tried to convince the Supreme Court to drop his one-year prison sentence for breach of public trust. And with no higher authority to make additional appeals to, Dankner is to begin serving his sentence on August 17 at Ayalon Prison.
The Supreme Court criticized the Tel Aviv District Court for an overly harsh sentence in December 2013, which it based on additional allegations from the original indictment. These allegations were eliminated from the amended indictment that Dankner agreed to.
But the court did not accept his arguments for avoiding prison time.
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 convinced the lower court to give Dankner a one-year prison term, despite his attempts 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 by some 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 and withheld 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 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 said that Dankner was getting a harsher punishment than what former prime minister Ehud Olmert received for a similar crime in the Investment Center Affair during the July 2012 Jerusalem corruption trial – for which he received a mere suspended sentence with no jail time and no community service.
Dankner’s lawyer 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. As chairman of Bank Hapoalim, he was probably the most powerful private official in the country.
The state emphasized this point in asking the court to uphold the prison sentence, saying 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 the 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-anda- half years in prison, as well as NIS 1.5m. in fines and asset seizures, for his involvement in the Holyland Affair.
Dankner announced an appeal in that case as well.