State Comptroller Yosef Shapira fined embattled Likud MK Oren Hazan NIS 5,000 after accusing him of submitting a false report on campaign spending ahead of January’s Likud primary, as part of a harsh report issued on Wednesday on fund raising and spending laws for party primaries.
Shapira cautioned Hazan he could face up to three years in prison for the offense if it led to a criminal conviction.
Hazan claimed in the report that he did not raise or spend any money besides the registration fee he paid to run.
But the comptroller found that Hazan spent NIS 25,000 on the race. Shapira did not accept his explanation that he was unaware he was required by law to report on expenses paid by others for his campaign.
“The state comptroller wishes to emphasize that the law states that knowingly submitting a false declaration to authorities carries a jail sentence of three years,” the report said. “Submitting a declaration that is not true, as the MK did, is a crime, with all the ramifications that come with it.”
Hazan said he was a new lawmaker, did not realize he needed to report on funds expended by other on his behalf and would learn lessons from the report – appearing to hope to ride out the storm.
But the storm hit him hard on Wednesday.
Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, who has sparred with Hazan for several months, called upon him to quit the Knesset due to the report’s findings. Edelstein contrasted Hazan to Bayit Yehudi MK Yinon Magal, who quit the Knesset Tuesday following sexual harassment allegations.
“One MK did the honorable thing and resigned, and I hope the other does, too,” Edelstein told reporters accompanying him to Germany.
Later on Wednesday, Hazan suffered another blow when following complaints from several lawmakers, the Knesset Ethics Committee barred him from speaking in the Knesset plenum and committees and participating in their debates for a month.
Hazan will only be allowed to enter in order to vote. He said in response that he is still waiting for the committee to punish Yesh Atid MK Karin Elharar for saying he was “garbage and a zero, who should die.”
Elharar, who heads the Knesset’s State Control Committee that monitors the comptroller, and has also fought with Hazan, for her own part called on Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein to open a criminal investigation into the report’s findings.
“The harsh findings prove there is political and perhaps even criminal corruption in the parties that conduct primaries,” she said.
“The report symbolizes the crumbling of the values of integrity, transparency and proper handling of public funds in those parties.”
Besides Hazan, the comptroller fined numerous ministers and MKs from the Likud, Zionist Union, Meretz and Bayit Yehudi, for raising and spending too much money on their primary campaigns.
Unsurprisingly, some of the worst offenders were politicians with significant personal wealth, including Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett and Zionist Union MK Erel Margalit.
Shapira levied the heftiest fine on Bennett – NIS 30,000. He criticized Bennett for spending NIS 1.2 million on a leadership race for head of his party, even though he was not challenged by a serious candidate and for using internal primaries as an excuse to promote his party in the general election using funds raised abroad.
The excess of funds raised from abroad by all parties, rising to NIS 4m. according to Shapira, was another theme of the report, particularly since he said it was hard to oversee such funds, and spot-checking of some funds had shown irregularities.
The report said that Bennett may have failed to report the correct amount of funds he spent for various services, since he did not include required documentation for many of the funds expended.
Further, Shapira slammed him for failing to separately delineate which funds were spent in his primary run and which in the Knesset elections, though the law requires that separation.
In 2014, Shapira castigated Bayit Yehudi for similar conduct, missing receipts on NIS 9.6m. of its expenses, limiting his ability to verify how much the party spent and if it was spent properly.
Accordingly, he fined Bayit Yehudi NIS 380,000 at the time.
Bennett used similar tactics in the pre-2013 election primaries, spending too much money despite knowing he would be fined, because he could afford it.
The comptroller found that failed Knesset candidate Moshe Feiglin spent more than NIS 1m. on his unsuccessful campaign and went more than NIS 400,000 in debt. Feiglin was fined NIS 10,000.
Margalit was fined NIS 7,500 for spending too much and former Bayit Yehudi MK Avraham Wortzman NIS 12,000 for raising NIS 200,000 more than permitted by law.
Two additional ministers also faced Shapira’s wrath.
He criticized Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev for illegally receiving free supplies and services that helped her campaign. However, he did not fine Regev or allege she had committed a crime.
Similarly, he accused Welfare and Social Services Minister Haim Katz of using his post as former head of the Israel Aerospace Industries union to boost his campaign, but without issuing a fine or a threat of criminal charges.
“Workers were seen arriving at polling stations in vehicles provided by the company,” Shapira wrote.
“Their arrival at polling stations that were opened specially for voters who did not want to vote near their homes and their return to work was facilitated by the company.”
The report described company cars bringing droves of groups of five to 10 workers at a time to vote, presumably for Katz.
The Katz and IAI problem is not new.
In a 2012 report, Shapira warned of possible illegal behavior by Katz in facilitating voting of IAI workers for him during working hours, sending a letter to then head of the Electoral Commission, Justice Elyakim Rubinstein and Weinstein.
In his letter, Shapira indicated that use of IAI’s facilities, computers and other resources for political purposes, in particular during work hours, could be illegal.
Shapira stated in his letter that his office had received complaints in the past about Katz’s behavior, which added credibility to the current suspicions against him.
At the time, there were also allegations of Katz busing in the IAI workers to voting booths in much larger numbers than the five to 10 at a time that occurred this year – possibly part of the reason that Shapira’s rebuke was lighter this time around.
Shapira called on MKs to change laws regarding use of public property in primaries, which is already illegal in general elections, to block Katz and others from similar conduct in the future Other MKs who incurred Shapira’s wrath included: Social Equality Minister Gila Gamliel, MK Nissan Slomiansky (Bayit Yehudi), MK Ayelet Nahmias-Verbin (Zionist Union) and Deputy Construction Minister Jackie Levy (the Likud).
In response to the report both Bennett and Hazan said they would study it and learn its lessons.
“I was a new MK who had never run before and entered the race at the last minute,” said Hazan.