Labor Party MK Binyamin Ben Eliezer .
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Numerous media outlets are reporting on Friday that Labor Party MK and presidential candidate Binyamin Ben-Eliezer is alleged to have illegally received millions of shekels from numerous individuals, among them businessman Avraham Nanikashvili, the oil magnate and financier whose net worth is estimated at NIS 3.35 billion.
Last month, Nanikashvili's name came up during an investigation of alleged corruption at the Ashdod port. Nanikashvili and a business partner, Jackie Ben Zaken, were questioned under caution by police, although authorities do not believe that the Ben-Eliezer probe is connected in any way to the Ashdod port case.
Investigators are also looking into allegations that Ben-Eliezer failed to report receiving these funds to the tax authorities. In light of these revelations, police are jointly handling this investigation with tax officials in the Finance Ministry.
According to Channel 2, authorities want to know what use Ben-Eliezer made of these funds.
Israeli police on Friday questioned Ben-Eliezer under caution for allegedly receiving illicit money.
Police said that Ben-Eliezer, who will stand for election for president in just four days, was questioned after the attorney general received information this past week suggesting that an investigation into the source of the funds he received was in order.
The attorney general, Yehuda Weinstein, asked the Intelligence and Investigations branch of the Israel Police to pursue the matter to determine whether a full-fledged criminal investigation is warranted.
Israel Police said on Friday that Ben-Eliezer was questioned for a total of five hours at the offices of the LAHAV 433 precinct. No other information was provided.
A decorated former soldier who rose through the political ranks to become Labor Party chairman and defense minister, Ben-Eliezer has been hounded in recent months by rumors regarding his allegedly lavish lifestyle.
In April, Channel 2's investigative news program "Uvda" aired a segment which claimed that Ben-Eliezer, who is affectionately known by his nickname Fouad, liked to frequent casinos in London during his stint as defense minister.
The report angered Ben-Eliezer, who accused his political rivals of spying on him.
Ben-Eliezer has also had to deal with lingering health issues. In April, he underwent a kidney transplant after it was learned that he had been subject to regular dialysis treatments.
The timing of this latest development will certainly raise questions, since the presidential elections are just four days away.
Ben-Eliezer is considered one of the three front-runners along with MK Reuven Rivlin (Likud Beytenu) and former MK Dalia Itzik.
The three candidates have been busy working on getting votes for the second round of voting, which will take place three hours after the first round on Tuesday (except in the unlikely event that 61 MKs support the same candidate in the opening round).
The two candidates who receive the most votes in the first round will move on to the second.
The three leading candidates have talked to lawmakers who support MK Meir Sheetrit (Hatnua), Nobel laureate Prof. Dan Shechtman or former Supreme Court justice Dalia Dorner in an effort to win their votes in the second round.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman (Yisrael Beytenu) gave his party’s 11 MKs freedom to vote as they wish, and his party colleague Tourism Minister Uzi Landau announced on Thursday that he would vote for Rivlin.