Money changer who transferred cash to Bishara convicted

An east Jerusalem money changer was convicted in a Jerusalem court on Sunday of laundering nearly $400,000 to former Balad MK Azmi Bishara. The fugitive Israeli Arab ex-lawmaker, who is suspected of treason and espionage for aiding Hizbullah during the Second Lebanon War, fled the country earlier this year. The money changer, Firas Asila, 29, of Jerusalem's Beit Hanina neighborhood, was found guilty of laundering $390,000 to Bishara, as part of a plea bargain with the State Attorney's Office whereby the defendant's company would not face legal action. According to the agreement, the prosecution will ask the court to sentence the money changer to eight months in jail, while the defendant will ask for a suspended sentence and six months of community service. The sentencing will be handed down at a later date. According to the indictment filed last month in the Jerusalem District Court, Bishara asked Asila last year to help him obtain money transfers that would be sent to him from an unnamed Arab country via Jordan. Asila agreed and contacted a Jordanian money changer he knew in Amman. Bishara also told the money changer not to reveal to his Jordanian contact who was actually receiving the funds. The money was subsequently delivered to Bishara in sealed envelopes in batches of $50,000, according to the police. When Bishara wanted the money in shekels, he would ask the money changer for the "books in Hebrew," as per a prearranged code. The case against Bishara brought to the surface long-standing concerns that the country's 1.4 million Arab citizens were a fifth column, while Israeli Arabs from Bishara's party have accused Israeli security officials of "political persecution."