(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
The Israel Securities Authority on Monday questioned Welfare Minister Haim Katz (Likud) under caution on suspicion of insider trading, after approval was given by Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit for the investigation.
The ISA said Katz cooperated with investigators. It would give no further information about the case for the time being.
Katz, whose personal wealth is estimated to be in the tens of millions of shekels, is suspected of receiving insider information from an associate, Mordechai Ben Arieh, about a planned merger between Nitsba Holdings and Airport City.
Ben Arieh, the financial consultant for Nitsba Holdings, bought shares in the company before the merger, as did Katz.
Katz and Ben Arieh are suspected of having been privy to the information before it was disclosed to investors in a timely fashion, unfairly using it to their advantage to make a profit.
The purchase is believed to have earned the two NIS 290,000 in profits, according to court documents reported on in the media on Tuesday.
Katz’s investigation complicates the reshuffle of positions in the Likud, expected to take place next week.
The welfare minister was expected to add labor to his portfolio, returning to the ministry’s name of Welfare and Labor from 1977 until 2003. Labor and employment issues are currently part of the Economy Ministry, which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu controls.
Meanwhile, coalition chairman Tzachi Hanegbi (Likud) was supposed to be appointed minister next week, but was likely not to get a portfolio.
However, on Tuesday he announced he would refuse to be a minister-without- portfolio, saying such a position is a waste of public funds.
In addition to the premiership, Netanyahu holds the foreign, communications, economy and regional cooperation portfolios, any of which he could give to Hanegbi, though he is unlikely to give up the Foreign Ministry, a powerful card in coalition negotiations, or the Communications Ministry, which he prizes.
Should Hanegbi not become minister, it will block a chain of promotions in Likud.
Netanyahu told MK Yoav Kisch (Likud) that he would become Knesset House Committee chairman next week, replacing MK David Bitan, who would take up Hanegbi’s position as coalition chairman.
MK Avi Dichter (Likud), a former Shin Bet chief, was expected to replace Hanegbi as Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee chairman.
Following reports of the investigation, the Movement for Quality in Government in Israel put out a statement on Tuesday, calling for Katz to go on leave until the investigation is concluded.