Hefetz questioned on Hapoalim scandal

Ambassador to Britain suspected in $372 million money laundering scheme.

Israel's ambassador to Great Britain, Zvi Hefetz, was questioned Friday morning at the headquarters of the police's serious and international crimes unit in Petah Tikva on suspicion that he was involved in the Bank Hapoalim money laundering scandal, in which police froze $372 million deposited in Bank Hapoalim's branch 535 on Rehov Hayarkon in Tel Aviv. Police suspected that the money, which belonged to 200 of the bank's international clients, was obtained illegally and had been knowingly laundered by bank employees. Hefetz was last questioned on his suspected involvement in November 2005. Police decided to question him due to his close ties with Russian businessman and Ma'ariv newspaper shareholder Vladimir Gusinsky, who had been named as a suspect in the case. Police suspect that Hefetz, who served as Gusinsky's representative in Israel before taking up the diplomatic post in the UK, was aware of - and even possibly behind - suspicious money transfers made into the Russian businessman's accounts at the branch. Police said they were confident indictments would be filed against some of the bank account owners and possibly even against Gusinsky. 'The investigation is at a very advanced stage,' one officer said. 'We are confident indictments will be filed, but that is ultimately up to the prosecution.' In March 2005, following a year-long investigation, police detained 22 employees from the branch suspected of crafting and implementing two methods used by local and foreign businessmen to launder illegally-obtained funds. The Foreign Ministry distanced itself from the investigation, claiming it had no affect on Hefetz's work as the senior Israeli envoy in the UK.