White-collar crime squads busier than ever

Seven suspects arrested in three major cases of fraud, embezzlement.

police hunt sela (photo credit: Channel 10)
police hunt sela
(photo credit: Channel 10)
In a landmark day for white-collar crime busts in Israel, police in the North and Tel Aviv announced the arrests of seven suspects in three major fraud, embezzlement and bribery cases Wednesday. A week before the 59th anniversary of Israel's independence, police said they believed that recent activities marked a new record in the number of high-profile white-collar crimes being investigated. The Likud's treasurer and her mother were arrested Wednesday morning, under suspicion that the treasurer - with her mother's assistance - embezzled millions of shekels from the party's coffers. The investigation was initiated after the fraud squad received a complaint that the younger suspect had recently deposited NIS 27,000 into her mother's bank account by forging signatures. Detectives said that the two had been working together for over three years to siphon money away from the party. Detectives described how the treasurer allegedly forged dozens of checks and deposited them in her mother's account. The mother would then withdraw cash and hand it over to her daughter. Police believe that the money embezzled over the years amounted to millions of shekels. Later Wednesday, both the lead suspect, 39, and her 58-year-old mother were brought to the Tel Aviv Magistrate's Court for their first hearing. The treasurer may face charges that including fraud under aggravated circumstances and forgery under aggravated circumstances. According to at least one Likud activist, who was interviewed on Israel Radio, the accountant suffered from a terminal illness and had even requested a loan from the party to cover the high cost of her medical treatments. Also on Wednesday morning, an employee of the Israel Lands Authority was arrested by the National Financial Crimes Unit and the Galilee Subdistrict police on suspicion of selling off state lands illegally. The 65-year-old ILA employee was suspected of brokering state-held lands in the Golan Heights and selling them to private individuals in exchange for bribes. Investigators believed that the employee not only accepted, but also demanded payoffs in exchange for his "services." After a months-long undercover investigation came to a close, police said they believed the financial damage - this time, to the country - stood, again, at millions of shekels. Another three people were arrested on related charges, and all four were taken to the Tel Aviv Magistrate's Court on Wednesday evening for remand extensions. Earlier, the same court heard arguments concerning the remand extension of a second suspect arrested Wednesday in connection with the Harel Investment scandal. Police said that the new suspect was a close friend of Harel deputy chief executive Guy Weisman, who was already waiting out a ten-day remand extension under suspicion of financial theft and fraud. Police believe Weisman may have embezzled up to NIS 100m. from Harel. Although police originally requested a ten-day remand extension for the second suspect, who was not present due to poor health, Judge Zion Kefach extended his remand by one day only and forbade publication of his name. Investigators claimed that tens of millions of shekels were deposited into the suspect's personal account. His attorneys argued Wednesday that he was an innocent victim whose accounts Weisman used without his knowledge. Police at the National Headquarters said late Wednesday evening that they believed this was the busiest its white-collar crime squads have ever been. Detectives - particularly the crack national units - have their hands full with multiple high-profile cases, including that of Finance Minister Avraham Hirchson.