Police: Try tax bribery suspects

Probe into ITA corruption wraps up, recommends trial for Matza, Zaken, others.

jp.services2 (photo credit: )
(photo credit: )
Police hopes were high Monday that their case would stand after handing over the massive probe into the Israel Tax Authority to the State Attorney's Office, but even as the police expressed not-so-veiled optimism, others argued that the scandal at the troubled government agency was even broader than police described. The National Fraud Squad announced officially Monday that they had concluded their months-long investigation into the Israel Tax Authority and allegations that senior officials were appointed to advance the interests of two prominent businessmen. The investigation into the corruption scandal became public on January 2 after police announced that they had detained 22 people including the current and former heads of the ITA. Senior police officials emphasized the broad scope of the probe, with one saying "it was a wide-scoped investigation," highlighting their "many searches" carried out in relation to the investigation. Over 500 testimonies were taken, they said, and dozens of people were questioned under warning. Many of those, police emphasized, were ITA employees. Police said that the investigation's findings confirmed their initial suspicions that two private businessmen - Kobi Ben-Gur and Yoram Karshi - used their influence in early 2006 and acted personally to advance the appointment of Jackie Matza as ITA head. Police suspect that they acted through Matza and through Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's longtime secretary Shula Zaken to appoint other cronies to key positions and senior roles in the ITA. Police said Sunday that they believed that they had a sufficient evidentiary basis to try Zaken, Matza and other senior officials at the ITA for offenses related to ethical violations. Similarly, the police believe that they also have sufficient evidence against Karshi - Zaken's brother - as well as Ben-Gur and former ITA head Eitan Rov to try them for similar violations as well. The likelihood that indictments will follow the lines of the police recommendations is exceptionally high given the fact that, throughout the investigation, the NFS squad carrying out the probe was joined by representatives of the State Attorney's Office. As of Monday, however, the case was officially in the hands of the Economic Division of the office. But Rafi Rotem, a former ITA employee who worked in the authority's department of investigations, was less optimistic, telling Israel Radio Monday that he believed that the arrests and the indictment represented merely the tip of the iceberg. Rotem, who in 2003 exposed corrupt procedures in his office, emphasized that any political appointment was a "potentially corrupt appointment." He went on to say that such illegal activities corrupted the whole establishment, since anyone appointed in this way would eventually make such appointments himself. "What happened in the Tax Authority can also happen in the State Prosecutor's Office and other law enforcement authorities," he added.