Ex-deputy minister Kirschenbaum convicted of bribery

Yisrael Beytenu Affair unprecedented.

Faina Kirschenbaum (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Faina Kirschenbaum
Former deputy minister Faina Kirschenbaum was convicted of bribery by the Tel Aviv District Court on Thursday, in one of the worst public corruption cases in Israeli history that had already led to over a dozen convictions.
Besides skimming funds off the state budgets that Kirschenbaum granted to various public bodies, she was convicted of organizing a scheme, along with family members and members of Yisrael Beytenu, to receive free hotel rooms, expensive electronic equipment, well-paid jobs, and a range of other illegal quid pro quo benefits.
Judge Yaron Levy said, “From 2009 and until the criminal probe went public, the defendant held tremendous power to allocate between NIS 80-200 million per year,” adding that Kirschenbaum skillfully circumvented a variety of laws designed to prevent corrupt use of public funds.
Kirschenbaum was the Yisrael Beytenu Party chairman and right-hand of Liberman from 2003-2014 and deputy minister from 2009-2014.
The prosecution opened its case against her, in the person of Economic Crimes Unit Deputy Director Meor Even Chen, with the charge that this was a unique case in a country that has witnessed widespread corruption among its public officials.
Even Chen said that in past cases, public officials were approached with bribes to approve requests, such as construction plans.
However, in this case, “it was not a question of giving an approval…the indictment…is practically like none which an Israeli court has ever seen…state funds from the budget itself were used as bribery funds…by the woman who was herself empowered by the legislature.”
In January 2018, the prosecution got its first conviction in “Case 242,” against Israeli Promoters Association CEO Irena Waldberg as part of a plea bargain.
This was a major turning point as Waldenberg pointed the finger directly at Kirschenbaum and helped the prosecution knock holes in the former top Yisrael Beytenu official’s defense.
In her March 2019 testimony, Kirschenbaum tried to plead ignorance of the bribery scheme and to redirect blame on Yisrael Beytenu chief of staff David Godovsky and others who have cut plea deals and who the court has already convicted.
Notably, Kirschenbaum remained loyal to party founder Avigdor Liberman and said he knew nothing about the scheme. Police, however, told her they were only going after her to get to Liberman.
She said that when she had nothing to give them against Liberman, they pressured her by arresting her daughter.
Kirschenbaum had trouble explaining why she used code words when referring to funds (which were eventually used in the bribery scheme) in her telephone conversations. She also could not explain her refusal to answer the vast majority of police questions,  and some damaging statements she made before she went silent.
She could not explain why she did not replace Godovsky when she said she noticed he was possibly acting suspiciously.
But Waldberg’s admission that Kirschenbaum was aware of bribery arrangements was especially damning. She had told Godovsky and another aide to ask for funding,
Waldberg said she had ingratiated herself with Kirschenbaum, who was assisting her with a range of public- and private-sector business issues on an ongoing basis.
Case 242 involved about a dozen other former ministry CEOs and former heads of quasi-governmental bodies and regional councils who were under observation since the alleged massive fraud scheme became known in December 2014.
Kirschenbaum was said to have worked on the scheme along with the Samaria Development Company, the Ayalim Association, the Binyamin Regional Council, the Ezra Association, and the National Anti-Drug and Alcohol Abuse Authority.