Three convicted in Dimona nuclear research agency fraud

Besides the three individual defendants, the case also led to charges against two entities used by the defendants.

July 4, 2019 00:38
3 minute read.
View of the Israeli nuclear facility in the Negev Desert outside Dimona

View of the Israeli nuclear facility in the Negev Desert outside Dimona . (photo credit: JIM HOLLANDER / POOL / REUTERS)

The Beersheba District Court has convicted three persons engaged by Israel’s nuclear research agency in Dimona of an NIS 3.2 million fraud scheme, including also money-laundering and breach of trust.

Announced for the first time by the court spokesperson’s office on Wednesday, the convictions and jail sentences of the three were actually handed down in April and earlier, but were under gag order due to the implications for national security.

Unlike a normal case probed by police, the investigation was led by a special division in the Defense Ministry which eventually worked with a special team in the state prosecution – again all due to the extreme sensitivity of all issues related to Dimona.

Israel has never confirmed that it has nuclear weapons, but according to foreign sources, the Dimona reactor has been used to produce between 80-200 nuclear weapons which Israel can deploy by land, sea and air.

The central defendant, an external consultant in 2002 who eventually became a senior manager within the Negev Nuclear Research Center in 2011, was sentenced to 30 months in prison and fined NIS 100,000. Another defendant was sentenced to 18 months in prison and fined NIS 75,000. A third defendant had cut a plea deal with the state at an earlier date. Due to the cooperative plea deal, the third defendant received only six months of community service and a NIS 50,000 fine.

Besides the three individual defendants, the case also led to charges against two entities used by the defendants.
Combined, the court fined those companies or seized assets worth NIS 450,000.

A statement by the Justice Ministry said that some of the defendants had appealed the decision to the Supreme Court.

It appears this appeal, likely filed recently, may have been part of the impetus for the Beersheba District Court to lift the gag order on some of the case’s main details.

The jail sentences were less than the four-to-six years and two-to-four years of jail recommended by the state prosecution for the two main defendants. It seemed that the court gave the defendants more lenient sentences in recognition of their years of positive service to the state’s nuclear agency, besides the crimes they committed.

In addition, the main defendant’s lawyer had noted that acceptance of a senior state position at the nuclear agency in 2011 meant giving up on more lucrative opportunities in the private sector. Finally, there were arguments by the main defendant’s lawyer that despite his client’s technical violations of the law, there was no actual harm to the nuclear agency, as it received the services it paid for.

While giving lenient sentences, the court still insisted on jail time in light of the systematic nature of the fraud and the severity of perpetrating fraud against a top secret government agency dealing with national security.

Many of the details remain under gag order, but broadly speaking, the defendants started to scheme as early as 2011 to have the nuclear agency pay significant funds to outside entities, which the defendants controlled, for services.

The defendants not only did not reveal that they controlled the entities, but also forged and presented false documentation to cover-up their connections to the entities. Had the nuclear agency known about their connections to the entities, it would have been illegal to have approved using their services because of the entities’ connections to the defendants.

The defendants directed payments and hiring of human resources, as well as purchases of equipment, which they funneled through the private entities they controlled to obtain personal profits.

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