'Heftsiba chief pocketed our cash'

Irate buyers converge on J'lem court as legal proceedings frozen for two weeks.

By ETGAR LEFKOVITS, REBECCA ANNA STOIL
August 9, 2007 23:57
2 minute read.
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The Jerusalem District Court on Thursday froze legal proceedings for the next two weeks against the defunct Heftsiba building company. Judge David Cheshin also appointed a former director-general of the Finance Ministry, Yossi Bechar, to audit the firm's holdings. The staid legal moves went ahead even as scores of distraught apartment owners were barred from the courtroom.

  • Proof that Israel isn't serious about auditing
  • The ethics of squatting Police opened a criminal investigation into the affair on Wednesday. The company's CEO, Boaz Yona, has fled the country. Yona and other company executives are suspected of pocketing payments made to the company by people who purchased apartments. Claims made by Heftsiba buyers, in addition to police evidence, are beginning to paint a picture of a company owner who may have worried more about his personal finances than the interests of his company or clients in the weeks before the collapse. Some Heftsiba buyers have claimed that Yona himself requested that payment checks for the apartment be made out in his name, to be deposited in his personal bank accounts. At least NIS 3 million worth of money paid by apartment buyers has disappeared entirely, with banks and creditors left scratching their heads as to where it went. Police border supervisors have confirmed that Yona left Israel approximately 30 hours before Heftsiba's collapse left thousands of buyers trapped in limbo with half-finished, and frequently half-paid-for apartments. Since then, the construction mogul has apparently been traveling in Europe; police say they know his whereabouts. On Thursday, moving trucks pulled up at Yona's palatial Ein Karem residence, removing property to be turned over to the creditors. Dozens of distraught apartment buyers converged on the Jerusalem courtroom Thursday after rumors spread that Yona's father would appear in court. He did not, citing illness. "Where has all our money gone?" said Yigal Benita. "For one week, I have not been able to work or sleep over this. The banks are closing their doors on us." "We do not want our money back. We simply want our apartments," said Rachel Malcha. "Just a bit of mercy; people do not have a roof over their heads." In the morning, Police Investigations and Intelligence Division Chief Cmdr. Yochanan Danino met, as planned, with representatives from the State Prosecutor's office, the Israel Tax Authority and the Israel Securities Authority. The officials determined that the investigative team from the National Fraud Squad would consolidate the evidence gathered by all the government agencies. Team leaders from the various agencies will meet at least once a day to update each other. While the police were taking the first steps toward building a case against company heads, a Jerusalem organization representing Heftsiba's buyers called on those affected by the collapse to file official complaints with the police. Buyers' advocates said that they would pursue the rights of buyers in the courts, the media and the Knesset, where they would push for legislation that would "defend buyers, both today and in the future." The court is ultimately expected to order the dismantlement of the company. The Justice Ministry has said it will offer free legal counsel to people who purchased Heftsiba apartments.

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