Senior tax official 'made problems go away for bribes'

Several arrested by National Fraud Unit, Lahav 443 for receiving cash for Tax Authority favors; Kadima dir.-gen. arrested and questioned.

David Vanunu 311 (photo credit: YAAKOV LAPPIN)
David Vanunu 311
(photo credit: YAAKOV LAPPIN)
The head of the Tax Authority’s National Investigations and Intelligence Branch was arrested on Tuesday, on suspicion of taking bribes to “make problems go away” for people with tax troubles.
Over several years, the main suspect, David Vanunu, personally took bribes and met with people who sought to extricate themselves from Tax Authority investigations, or received bribes via middle-men who then took a cut, police said.
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Four suspects were also arrested by the National Fraud Unit, on suspicion of acting as intermediaries in the bribe transfers.
One of those arrested is Kadima director-general Moshe Schori, who is suspected of paying bribes to Vanunu to extricate his wife from a Tax Authority investigation. Schori admitted to meeting with Vanunu but denied passing any bribes to him.
“They mediated between those who owed the Tax Authority funds and Vanunu.
They charged a commission for their services,” a police source told The Jerusalem Post.
During the hearing, Vanunu’s attorney, Nati Simhoni, said he was “confident of my client’s innocence.”
Judge Rafi Aranya of the Rishon Lezion Magistrate’s Court, who was a party to the police’s undercover investigation for several months, said, “This is a complex investigation. The basis of evidence is most significant, and ties the suspect not only to these suspicions, but also to other directions that need to be investigated.”
Aranya ordered Vanunu held in custody for a week.
One of those suspected by police of acting as an intermediary for bribes is Reuven Schiff, former head of the Institute of Certified Public Accountants in Israel, who was arrested just before boarding a flight at Ben-Gurion Airport.
Schiff’s lawyer, Jack Chen, told the court, “This is a totally unnecessary arrest. The suspicions are baseless.”
He complained that “everything is hidden in a secret report,” referring to a classified dossier that contained the alleged evidence against his client but that had been made available to the court only.
Chen added that his client’s good name had been damaged irreparably by the arrest, and pleaded with the court to release him to house arrest.
Aranya said a reasonable suspicion existed against Schiff, but released him to a week’s house arrest on bail, saying Schiff had provided a full account of his version of events, which now “needed to be examined thoroughly.”
Schori was arrested on suspicion of bribing Vanunu to make an investigation into his wife’s tax affairs “go away.”
The Kadima Party has placed Schori on a temporary leave of absence pending the result of the investigation.
Schori’s defense attorney, Avi Himi, said during the remand hearing that the Kadima director- general had been arrested in his home on Tuesday morning and questioned for seven hours.
“He cooperated fully,” Himi said.
The attorney added that there was nothing wrong with the fact that Schori had met Vanunu twice, at a shopping center and at a cafe, to see whether the investigation of his wife would result in a fine or an indictment.
“There was a tax problem in his family. Mr. Schori met Mr.
Vanunu twice. He did not pass on any bribes whatsoever.
There is nothing illegal about a meeting,” Himi said.
“This is a former IDF intelligence officer who was in possession of some of the most sensitive material in Israel,” Himi added. Schori is a former brigadier-general and IDF chief intelligence officer.
Schori was released to a week’s house arrest.
The Likud, meanwhile, said Kadima had become a “greenhouse for growing criminals.”
A party spokeswoman said Schori’s house arrest put him in the company of convicted former Kadima ministers Avraham Hirchson, Haim Ramon and Tzachi Hanegbi, and under-investigation former prime minister Ehud Olmert.
Kadima said in response that the incident had nothing to do with the party and that Vanunu was a Likud central committee member who had been appointed to his position by former Likud finance minister Silvan Shalom.
“The Likud, which sent a rapist to be president, is in no position to scold us,” Kadima MK Yoel Hasson said.
Yoel Mugami, described by police as a political adviser to Schori and an associate of Vanunu, was arrested on suspicion of mediating bribe transfers, assisting a bribe transfer, laundering funds, and other offenses.
Police accuse Mugami, who is a member of the Petah Tikva religious council, of acting as one of the main channels to Vanunu and abusing his position.
In one alleged incident, Mugami is suspected of receiving NIS 200,000 to pass on to Vanunu from now-deceased businessman Ran Hadar to deal with a tax problem.
“He didn’t know it was a criminal offense to pass it on,” Mugami’s attorney said in court on Tuesday. Mugami’s custody was extended by six days.
Former police officer Koti Barzilai is also suspected of acting as a bribe intermediary, and was ordered by the court to remain in custody for seven days.
A sixth suspect, who cannot be named due to a media ban, was ordered to remain in custody for four days.
Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.