Police recommend charging ex-finance minister

Charges against Hirchson include breach of trust, theft, money laundering while head of NILI.

By REBECCA ANNA STOIL
September 2, 2007 17:49
2 minute read.
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After years of investigation into the finances of the National Workers' Union, police announced Sunday that they had gathered enough evidence to recommend an indictment against former union leader and finance minister Avraham Hirchson. Police have recommended that Hirchson face charges that include breach of trust, fraud under severe circumstances, theft and money laundering. The investigation team - composed of both police and Israel Tax Authority detectives - submitted a summary of their work to the state attorney and the Tel Aviv district attorney after both the summary and recommendations were approved by Israel Police Intelligence and Investigations Division head Cmdr. Yohanan Danino. Because the investigation has been closely followed by prosecutors and by State Attorney Eran Shendar himself, the decision on whether to indict Hirchson - and, if so, on what charges - is likely to follow the police announcement in the coming weeks. Shendar is leaving his post in the early fall, and the indictment decision will likely precede his departure. In addition to what investigators from the National Financial Crimes Unit described as a "solid base of evidence" against Hirchson, the investigation team, headed by Lt.-Cmdr. Yoav Segelovich, also said they had found weighty evidence against other high-ranking officials from both the NWU and its Nili subdivision. After the array of rumors swirling around the Kadima minister's investigation, alleged financial irregularities at the March of the Living Foundation, which Hirchson founded, were not mentioned in the police recommendation Sunday. Similarly, the police recommendation indicated that not enough evidence had been found to justify an indictment against Hirchson's son, Ofer. Much of the investigation this spring had centered around both Hirchson's and his son's bank accounts to determine who had funneled money to whom, and for what purpose. Differing accounts had offered a variety of suggestions, including that Hirchson had been trying to pay off his son's gambling debts, or that Ofer Hirchson had been using his father's account to evade paying taxes. Instead, the focus of the Sunday's recommendation was on the National Workers' Union and its daughter organizations: Nili - the movement's educational system - and the Leumi health care provider. Hirchson, police suspect, embezzled funds in the form of both cash and benefits from the organizations during the period when he led the NWU and even following the end of his tenure. Hirchson's name first got tied into the NWU scandal amid reports first made public in December 2006 that he had ignored the embezzlement of funds from Nili. At that point, police believed that the man behind the embezzlement had been NWU employee Ovadia Cohen. But after an initial probe, police began to suspect that Hirchson's involvement ran deeper than merely turning a blind eye. In April, he suspended himself so that he could fight allegations, later vacating the ministry entirely. Five of Hirchson's former employees - all of whom worked at the non-profit Nili - were arrested in early January. At least NIS 5.5 million disappeared from Nili's coffers in 2003. According to accounts Sunday, none of the witnesses against Hirchson were offered "state's witness" deals in exchange for their testimony, but willingly offered evidence against the Olmert confidant.

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