(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
In a major announcement, the National Economic Crimes Unit on Wednesday filed an indictment with the Tel Aviv District Court against former defense minister and Labor party power broker Binyamin Ben-Eliezer for bribery, money-laundering, fraud, breach of public trust and tax offenses.
He was charged along with five others: businessmen Jacky Ben-Zaken, Charlie Yehuda, Roi Mutzafi, and Avraham Nanikashvili and Ben-Eliezer’s former bureau chief Ayelet Azoulay.
Ben-Eliezer had been given an extensive pre-indictment hearing, a special procedure for public and former public officials, as a last chance to convince the state prosecution to drop the charges, but failed to convince Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein of his innocence.
The case deals with allegations from 2007- 2014, covering a period when he was the national infrastructures minister, with the indictment stating as follows: Ben-Eliezer accepted large bribes from a series of associates in order to help advance their business interests.
He laundered millions of shekels by buying real estate, funneling it to bank accounts belonging to relatives and through the use of currency exchange businesses.
The money included NIS 2,142,000 found in a safe deposit box belonging to Ben- Eliezer at a Jerusalem bank.
He received illegally acquired funds from real-estate developer Mutzafi to lobby on his behalf with Egyptian officials he was close to, in order to help advance a project he was planning in Egypt.
The funds included NIS 500,000 toward buying a multimillion-shekel house in Jaffa and he requested around an additional NIS 1.3 million for purchasing the house, but Mutzafi refused.
However, Mutzafi did provide an additional NIS 260,000 to Ben-Eliezer to buy a separate Ness Ziona property for his wife and son.
In addition, he received around $400,000 in 2011 from oil magnate Nanikashvili for helping him during a tax probe, according to the indictment.
The then-78-year-old Ben-Eliezer tendered his letter of resignation from the Knesset in December 2014, citing health issues, ending decades as a public servant.
The case against him broke just before the presidential election in June 2014.
Before that, he was expected to be a front-runner for head of state, but the probe all but killed his bid for the presidency.
Weinstein had been under pressure to submit the indictment for some time since the case broke open almost a year-and-a-half ago, but had moved slow on the case, partially citing Ben-Eliezer’s health problems and the fact that he had already resigned from office as reasons for there being less of a rush.Ben Hartman contributed to this report.