(photo credit: Reuters)
The Israel Securities Authority and Israel Police anti-corruption Lahav 433 Unit recommended on Sunday to indict Israel’s wealthiest woman, Shari Arison, and senior officials from the Shikun & Binui construction company over suspicions of bribing foreign government officials and other financial offenses.
The investigation by the police and the Securities Authority concerns the payment of bribes between 2008 and 2016 to officials in various African countries, including Kenya, by the Tel Aviv-listed company and its subsidiaries in order to advance lucrative construction projects.
Investigators also recommended to indict former CEO Ofer Kotler, Arison Investments chairman and CEO Efrat Peled, and accountant Ruby Lazrov, an audit partner at BDO Ziv Haft Israel. The recommendations of the investigation will be transferred to the State Prosecutor’s Tax and Finance Department.
Other suspected offenses include the false registration of corporate documents, conspiracy to commit an offense, obstruction of justice, money laundering, and misreporting on official financial documents as required by the Securities Law.
Payments were allegedly made directly by Shikun & Binui and through its subsidiaries, including Swiss company SBI International Holdings AG.
Shikun & Binui was owned by the Arison Group’s business arm Arison Investments until August 6, 2018, when the company and its subsidiaries were sold to the Saidoff Group for NIS 1.1b.
“According to the evidence gathered, in Kenya alone – where the investigation was focused – bribes worth tens of millions of shekels were transferred during the relevant period, which generated contracts and benefits valued at hundreds of millions of shekels,” authorities said. “Finances seized during various stages of the investigation amounted to NIS 420 million.”
Approximately 50 suspects were questioned during the investigation, and 34 witness statements were taken. Two sets of inquiries were also conducted in cooperation with Kenya’s Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission, and 19 Kenyan public servants were interviewed following searches and arrests conducted in Nairobi.
Three current projects carried out by Shikun & Binui in Kenya include the rehabilitation and extension of a 46 km. highway from Jikia to Machakos, upgrading a 76 km. road from Kericho to Nyamasaria, and the renovation and upgrading of a 46 km. road from Meru to Mitunguu.
Adv. Nati Simhoni, representing both Arison and Peled, said he was sure that prosecutors would clear them of any wrongdoing.
“We are confident that when the State Prosecutor’s Office examines the matter as it truly is, they will reach an informed decision that there has been no flaw in the conduct of Shari Arison and Efrat Peled, and will announce the closure of the case,” said Simhoni.
Estimated by Forbes to be worth approximately $5b., Arison inherited billions of dollars from her father Ted, founder of Carnival Cruise Lines.
In September 2018, she said she would be giving up her controlling interest in Bank Hapoalim, Israel’s largest bank, after receiving Bank of Israel permission to sell her shares at the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange.