Ex deputy minister Kirschenbaum testifies for 1st time in bribery trial

Notably, Kirschenbaum remained loyal to Avigdor Liberman and said he knew nothing about the scheme.

Faina Kirschenbaum (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Faina Kirschenbaum
Former deputy internal affairs minister Faina Kirschenbaum revealed her defense against bribery charges, testifying for the first time before the Tel Aviv District Court on Monday in the “Yisrael Beytenu Affair,” one of Israel’s worst public corruption cases in history, which has already led to 12 convictions.
Besides skimming state funds off the budgets that Kirschenbaum granted to various public bodies, Kirschenbaum, her family members and members of Yisrael Beytenu are accused of receiving free hotel rooms, expensive electronics, paid jobs and a range of other illegal quid-pro-quo benefits.
Kirschenbaum’s defense strategy appeared to be pleading ignorance of the bribery scheme and to redirect blame onto former 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 leader Avigdor Liberman and said that he knew nothing about the scheme.
Rather, she said police told her that they did not even care about her and were only going after her in order to get to Liberman.
She said that when she had nothing to give them against Liberman, they pressured her and arrested her daughter.
Kirschenbaum had trouble having to explain why she used code words in her telephone conversations when referring to funds, which were eventually used in the bribery scheme. She also was on the defensive explaining her refusal to answer the vast majority of police questions and some damaging responses she gave at the start of her questioning before she went silent.
Furthermore, she had to explain why she did not replace Godovsky when she noticed he was possibly taking irregular actions.
At the opening of the prosecution’s case against her, Economic Crimes Unit deputy director Meor Even-Chen had told the court that even though the country has seen corruption among its public officials in the past, this case was unique.
Even-Chen said that in past cases, public officials were approached with bribes to approve requests, such as construction plans.
However, the prosecutor said that in this case, “it was not a question of giving an approval… the indictment… is practically like none which an Israeli court has even seen… state funds from the budget itself were used as bribery funds… by the woman empowered by the legislature herself.”
In January 2018, the prosecution got its first of 12 convictions in the Yisrael Beytenu Affair involving Kirschenbaum, Godovsky and other public officials.
Also known as Case 242, the conviction was of Israeli Promoters Association CEO Irena Waldberg as part of a plea bargain.
Waldberg admitted to bribing Godovsky and another aide of Kirschenbaum by paying NIS 15,084 for their flights to Ukraine and Serbia in August 2014.
As part of her plea bargain, Waldberg said Kirschenbaum was aware of the arrangement, had told Godovsky and the other aide to ask Waldberg for the funding, and she had complied to ingratiate herself with Kirschenbaum, who was assisting her with a range of public- and private-sector business issues on an ongoing basis.
But Waldberg is only one piece of the evidence in the case.
Case 242 involves about a dozen other former ministry CEOs and former heads of quasi-governmental bodies and regional councils who have been under the gun since the alleged massive fraud scheme became known in December 2014.
According to police, the 2009-2014 conspiracy involved a series of plots by the suspects, including a large number of public officials and local council heads, to approve state funding and inflated budgets for various state bodies and NGOs. A percentage of that allegedly was then kicked back to the accomplices, including Kirschenbaum and Godovsky.