Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem on July 30. Photo by Amir Cohen/Reuters

Netanyahu says corruption probe is a ‘witch hunt’

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office rejected accusations of corruption contained in a court document accidentally revealed to the public.

On Thursday, a document submitted by the police to the Rishon Lezion Magistrate’s Court revealed that police are investigating Netanyahu on suspicion of bribery, fraud and breach of trust.

The court then imposed a gag order on details of the probe until Sept. 17.

“The witch-hunt to topple the government is in full swing but it will fail because of this simple reason: There will be nothing because there was nothing,” Netanyahu’s office said Thursday in response to the reports.

The Jerusalem Post reported Friday that Netanyahu’s former chief of staff, Ari Harow, has agreed to testify in the probe. The Los Angeles native has previously been under investigation for allegations that he used his political connections to advance his own business interests.

While no formal  charges have been filed against Harow, various Israeli media reported that he agreed to cooperate with the attorney general in return for six months’ community service and a hefty fine.

The probe is reported to involve two separate cases. In the first, dubbed “Case 1000,” police are probing whether expensive gifts given to Netanyahu by an Australian billionaire and a Hollywood mogul amount to an illegal conflict of interest.

In the second case, known as “Case 2000,” Netanyahu is alleged to have sought favorable coverage from the Yediot Acharonot newspaper in exchange  for legislation that would disadvantage a free rival daily, the Sheldon Adelson-back Israel Hayom.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on July 23. Photo by Abir Sultan/Reuters

Netanyahu suspected of bribery and fraud, Israeli Police tells court

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is suspected of bribe, fraud and breach of trust in two cases, Israel Police confirmed on Thursday when it requested a gag order on the ongoing talks to recruit a state witness. The gag order was granted and is effective until September 17.

A response on behalf of the prime minister stated on Thursday: “We completely reject the unfounded claims made against the prime minister. The campaign to change the government is underway, but it is destined to fail, for a simple reason: there won’t be anything because there was nothing.”


Rabbi to celebrities loses appeal to void prison term in Israel

Israel’s Supreme Court upheld a one-year prison sentence for Yoshiyahu Pinto, an Israeli rabbi who has counseled such celebrities as LeBron James.

Pinto had appealed the sentence, part of a plea bargain in which he pleaded guilty to bribing a senior police official. The Supreme Court announced its decision on Tuesday.

In the plea deal, finalized last April, the rabbi pleaded guilty to charges of bribery, attempted bribery and obstruction of justice in his effort to acquire information in another investigation about him. Pinto, the head of several charity organizations and yeshivas in Ashdod, in southern Israel, and in the United States, agreed to provide evidence that he bribed the officer.

His attorneys had asked the Supreme Court to cancel the prison sentence due to the important evidence he provided to the state. Pinto also is reported to be in ill health.

A day before the ruling, a New York State Supreme Court judge dismissed a $30 million lawsuit filed by a charity run by Pinto claiming that an Israeli journalist’s report on the charity, Mosdot Shuva Israel, and Pinto’s top U.S. official, Ben Zion Suky, made false and damaging statements about them. The judge found that a New York court would not have jurisdiction over the case.

Prominent Israelis, politicians, businessmen and sports figures have sought counsel from Pinto on business and personal matters. Along with James, an NBA superstar, they include former Rep. Anthony Weiner, businessman Jay Schottenstein and Israeli soccer star Guy Levy.

Pinto, a kabbalist, is the great-grandson of the well-known Morocco-born mystic known as the Baba Sali.

Celebrity Israeli rabbi pleads guilty to bribery charges

Yoshiyahu Pinto, an Israeli rabbi who has counseled such celebrities as LeBron James, pleaded guilty in a Tel Aviv court to bribery charges.

In a plea deal, Pinto, 39, pleaded guilty to charges of bribery, attempted bribery and obstruction of justice for attempting to bribe a senior police officer for information in another investigation about him. Pinto agreed to provide evidence that he bribed a more senior officer.

He faces up to a year in prison plus fines. He surrendered his passport to the court.

Pinto, the head of several charity organizations and yeshivas in Ashdod, in southern Israel, and in the United States, has been sought out by prominent Israelis, politicians, businessmen and sports figures on business and personal matters. Along with the NBA star James, they include former Rep. Anthony Weiner, businessman Jay Schottenstein and Israeli soccer star Guy Levy.

The rabbi arrived in Israel on Monday and was rushed to a Tel Aviv hospital after complaining of chest pains. A cardiac catheterization showed that he did not suffer a heart attack.

In April 2014, U.S. prosecutors brought charges against former Rep. Michael Grimm, R-N.Y., for receiving large contributions from followers of Pinto. Grimm admitted to receiving several hundred thousand dollars in contributions from Pinto followers.

Olmert retrial in Talansky Affair begins

Ehud Olmert went on trial for the second time in the the bribery case that led the Israeli prime minister to resign in 2008.

Olmert’s retrial in what became known as the Talansky Affair began with a hearing Tuesday in Jerusalem District Court.

Israel’s Supreme Court ordered the new trial last month and said it will allow new testimony from Olmert’s former assistant Shula Zaken, including recordings of conversations between Olmert and Zaken, who provided the information last spring as part of a plea bargain. Zaken and Olmert reportedly will take the stand in the retrial.

In 2012, The Jerusalem District Court acquitted Olmert on charges of fraud, breach of trust, tax evasion and falsifying corporate records in what became known as the Talansky and Rishon Tours affairs. He was found guilty on a lesser charge of breach of trust in what was known as the Investment Center case.

Olmert was accused of allegedly paying for family vacations by double billing Jewish organizations through the Rishon Tours travel agency; allegedly accepting envelopes full of cash from American businessman and fundraiser Morris Talansky; and allegedly granting personal favors to attorney Uri Messer when he served as trade minister in the Investment Center case. The charges were filed after he became prime minister in 2006, but covered his time as mayor of Jerusalem and later as a government minister.

He officially resigned as prime minister after police investigators recommended that he be indicted.

Zaken was convicted on two counts of fraudulently obtaining benefits and fraud, and breach of trust in the Rishon Tours case.

In May, Olmert was sentenced to six years in prison for accepting bribes in the real estate scam known as the Holyland Affair and ordered to report to prison on Sept. 1. The prison date was suspended pending his appeal.

He could spend more time in prison if convicted in the second Talansky trial.

Olmert convicted for taking bribes in Holyland scandal

Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was found guilty of accepting bribes in the Holyland corruption case.

Tel Aviv District Court Judge David Rosen announced the verdict on Monday morning in what has been called the country’s largest corruption scandal. Olmert is facing up to 10 years in prison.

[How Israel gained and lost from Olmert’s guilty verdict]

Nine other former senior Olmert associates and businessmen also were found guilty on various charges, including former Olmert bureau chief Shula Zaken, who agreed last week to testify against Olmert in exchange for a plea bargain; former Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupolianski; and former chairman of Israel’s Bank Hapoalim, Danny Dankner.

Olmert, who was convicted of receiving about $150,000 in bribes through his brother, Yossi, becomes the first former Israeli prime minister to be convicted of taking a bribe.

Rosen in his decision said “Olmert’s statement doesn’t reflect reality; Olmert lied in court.”

Olmert resigned as prime minister in September 2008 after police investigators recommended that he be indicted in multiple corruption scandals.

The Jerusalem District Court acquitted Olmert in 2012 on charges of fraud, breach of trust, tax evasion and falsifying corporate records in what became known as the Talansky and Rishon Tours affairs. He was found guilty on a charge of breach of trust in what is known as the Investment Center case; he appealed the verdict.

The verdict on Ehud Olmert

Now we know one thing for sure: Ehud Olmert will never again be prime minister of Israel.

Olmert, who led Israel’s government from 2006 to 2009, was convicted this morning of taking bribes in the Holyland affair, a scandal involving the illegal construction of high-rise apartments in Jerusalem when Olmert was the city’s mayor more than a decade ago.

It was a soap opera of a case, but what matters now is the bottom line: Olmert, 68, faces significant jail time — not to mention a ban from politics.

[How Israel gained and lost from Olmert’s gilty verdict]

Olmert resigned his premiership upon facing a corruption indictment. As recently as last year, though, pundits and advisers floated his name as Israel’s next great centrist hope.

He was the man who could lead an assertive government into a peace deal with the Palestinians, they said, as long as his corruption charges went away. Except they didn’t go away.

If today’s judgment has demolished Olmert’s personal reputation, his political legacy was already in tatters. His once-mighty centrist Kadima party has hit its nadir. He’s going to prison, and the party he once led has two seats in the Knesset, likely its last hurrah.

Kadima was founded by Ariel Sharon, the general-turned-politician, and the party’s appeal was in the premise that Israel could take full control of its destiny independent of its adversaries. The state could unilaterally set its borders, move its population and bomb its enemies as it saw fit — rewriting the rules to secure Israel’s strategic needs.

That was the defining motif of Sharon’s career — from the Sinai to Lebanon to the Gaza Disengagement. And it’s the approach Olmert adopted when he took the reins of Kadima — Hebrew for “onward” — after Sharon’s 2006 stroke.

But the approach has yielded mixed results: Wars in Lebanon and Gaza left Israel with inconclusive victories and fallout abroad. Olmert’s “Consolidation Plan,” a unilateral withdrawal from parts of the West Bank, never got off the ground. And Israel’s next government was led not by Kadima but by the Likud of Benjamin Netanyahu.

With Holyland, it seems, Olmert tried to rewrite the rulebook to suit his personal needs, disregarding building regulations in Jerusalem for the right price. But that didn’t work out very well for him.

Israeli judge who fled extradited from Peru

An Israeli judge who fled to Peru eight years ago following allegations of bribery and fraud was extradited to Israel.

Dan Cohen arrived in Israel on Sunday morning after he was arrested by Peruvian police and placed directly on an airplane leaving for Israel.

He has been fighting the extradition, which was approved in secret by the Peruvian government to prevent Cohen from going into hiding. The two countries do not have a signed extradition treaty.

Cohen is charged with of bribery, fraud, breach of trust, obstruction of justice and failure to report earnings.

Olmert says he has no plans to re-enter politics

Former Israeli Prime Minister Olmert, following his acquittal on the most serious corruption charges, said he does not intend to return to politics.

Olmert, speaking Thursday at a conference in Tel Aviv two days after he was acquitted on corruption charges that prompted his resignation from office four years ago, also said that he would remain a member of the Kadima party.

“I want to calm down anyone who is worried—I have no intention of re-entering politics,” Olmert reportedly said a conference of the Institute for National Security Studies. “I am not involved in politics. I deal with other issues and nothing else. I don’t have a shelf party—I am a member of Kadima.”

The Jerusalem District Court acquitted Olmert on charges of fraud, breach of trust, tax evasion and falsifying corporate records in what became known as the Talansky and Rishon Tours affairs. He was found guilty on a lesser charge of breach of trust in the Investment Center case, in which Olmert was accused of granting personal favors while he was Israel’s trade minister.

Olmert is expected to appeal the breach of trust conviction, which would carry a prison sentence and make him the first Israeli prime minister to go behind bars. He had pleaded not guilty on all charges.

In a statement made after the executive summary of the decision was read, Olmert said, “After over four years this case has finally come to its end. Four years ago the media was riddled with reports of ‘cash envelopes’ and illicit money. Well, today the court found that there was no such thing. This was not corruption, there were no cash-filled envelopes, there was no bribery, there was no illicit use of funds.”

N.Y. lawmaker Carl Kruger quits over bribery charges

A New York lawmaker who had strong Orthodox Jewish backing because he rejected a gay rights initiative quit after pleading guilty to charges that he funneled bribes through his gay lover. State Sen. Carl Kruger, a conservative Democrat who has held his Brooklyn seat since 1994, resigned Dec. 20 just before pleading guilty to laundering up to $1 million from lobbyists through Michael Turano, a real estate agent described by prosecutors as Kruger’s “intimate associate” and housemate.

“I accept responsibility for my actions and am truly sorry for my conduct,” Kruger was quoted by the New York Daily News as telling the court.

Kruger, who is Jewish, earned plaudits from the Orthodox community in 2009 for voting against a gay marriage bill, telling the Orthodox Hamodia newspaper at the time, “When it becomes an emotional, gut-wrenching issue, when it cuts through the fabric of traditions and values, then I have my community as the cornerstone of my decision.”

Abramoff receives new four-year sentence, Phoenix community leader murdered

Abramoff Receives New Four-Year Sentence

Jewish lobbyist Jack Abramoff was sentenced to four years in prison. Abramoff had pleaded guilty to corruption and tax offenses related to influence peddling involving Republican congressmen and midlevel Bush administration officials, some of whom were convicted.

The prosecution noted Abramoff’s cooperation in helping to build cases against some 10 other officials in recommending that he be given a reduced term, largely to motivate others to cooperate with investigators.

However, on Sept. 4, Judge Ellen Huvelle of the U.S. District Court in Washington sentenced Abramoff to nine months more than the 39-month term suggested by prosecutors, citing the erosion of the public’s trust in government that Abramoff’s activities generated.

Wearing a yarmulke, Abramoff offered a wrenching apology to the court, saying, “I have fallen into an abyss,” according to the reports. “My name is the butt of a joke.” Abramoff currently is serving a two-year prison term in an unrelated fraud case.

Prominent Jewish Activist in Phoenix Slain

A prominent Jewish activist in Phoenix, Irving Shuman, 84, was murdered at his office on Sept. 2.

Shuman’s body was found Tuesday evening at his real estate office after he failed to show up for a dinner appointment, according to the Arizona Republic. His car was also stolen.

Shuman, who was active in Jewish organizations and pro-Israel lobbies, had received several honors, including the Tree of Life award by the Jewish National Fund in Arizona and the Jewish Federation of Greater Phoenix’s Medal of Honor.

“Irv Shuman was a man of exceptional values,” said Rabbi Ariel Shoshan, who studied with Shuman and other Phoenix executives on Thursdays, according to the Republic. “He lived for causes like the well-being of Israel and the furtherance of Jewish education and was an active supporter of over 100 charities.”

Shuman’s gold Lexus was recovered in San Bernardino this week.

Ehud Olmert should be indicted, Israeli police tell prosecutors

JERUSALEM (JTA)—Ehud Olmert should be indicted on corruption charges, Israeli police recommended Sunday.

Bribery is the most serious of the charges that police recommended against the prime minister to Attorney General Menachem Mazuz. Others include fraud, breach of trust and money laundering.

The corruption charges stem from two investigations of Olmert. In the Rishon Tours double billing affair, he allegedly used money from charitable organizations to fund family trips. In the Talansky affair, Olmert is alleged to have received illegal contributions from American businessman Morris Talansky over the course of 15 years.

Police are still reviewing evidence in a third case; Olmert is under investigation in six cases.

The recommendations, along with investigative material, will be passed on to the state prosecutor’s office. Once the material is passed on and a hearing held for Olmert, the prosecutor’s office will make a decision on filing an indictment in about two weeks.

Police also recommended charging Olmert’s former bureau chief Shula Zaken.

A statement from the Prime Ministers Office called the recommendations “meaningless.”

A Gift in the Hand is Worth…

Shimon Peres, the most experienced Israeli politician still in the harness, was not on Ehud Barak’s 25-man team negotiating peace with Syria in West Virginia this week. But the 76-year-old economic cooperation minister may have moved within striking distance of the last public position he still craves: the presidency.

The prospects of Ezer Weizman’s completing his second term have diminished after he confirmed a report by investigative journalist Yoav Yitzhak that he received nearly half a million dollars from a French Jewish tycoon, Edouard Seroussi, while serving as a legislator and minister in the ’80s.

The gift was never declared, either to the Knesset or to the tax man. A decade ago, with Weizman’s blessing, Seroussi was behind an abortive attempt to launch a second English-language daily to compete with the Jerusalem Post. He maintains a home in the upscale Tel-Aviv suburb of Saviyon.

Government lawyers have opened an investigation. Weizman says he did nothing illegal, since his friend Seroussi had no business interests in Israel and the money had been paid into a trust, administered by Weizman’s attorney (from whose office the president’s file appears to have been filched). It is alleged that thousands of dollars were transferred piecemeal to the private accounts of Weizman, his wife and daughter, even after he became president in 1993. In effect, Seroussi seems to have bankrolled the old pilot’s political career.

Justice Minister Yossi Beilin has warned against rushing to judgment. Nevertheless, the rumor mill is churning. Prime Minister Barak is reported to have promised Peres his support. Ra’anan Cohen, Labor’s secretary-general, has confirmed that the former leader is the party’s choice to succeed Weizman. Peres, the only Israeli to have held all four top government posts — prime minister, foreign, defense and finance — makes no secret that he is available. He remains as active and creative as ever.

The ailing, 75-year-old incumbent has “welcomed” the chance to clear his name and is turning over all relevant papers, but some commentators are already demanding that he step down. The clamor has been amplified by resentment — not only on the right — at the way Weizman has begun campaigning for a Golan withdrawal as part of a peace package with Damascus.

The president announced that he would resign if Israelis did not vote “yes” in the promised referendum. More than 60 percent of the public polled by Gallup condemned that as inappropriate intervention by a national figurehead who is supposed to be above the political battle.

So far, his fellow politicians have been more reticent than the media, who don’t want to be accused of gunning for right wingers suspected of bribe-taking, like Shas’ Aryeh Deri and the Likud’s Binyamin Netanyahu, while ignoring establishment peacenicks like Weizman.

In an editorial headlined “The president must resign,” the liberal daily Ha’aretz went for the jugular: “The public expects its representatives to make do with their monthly salaries and not be tempted to accept gifts, which could affect the recipient’s judgment. Nor was this a reasonable one-time gift that one friend gives another. It was in fact a second, and very hefty, monthly salary that was given to Weizman when he held a highly influential public position.

“In the past, some public servants faced trial for receiving gifts of far less value, the assumption being that any gift that is given to a public figure is suspect, and that the more senior the person and the larger the gift, the more suspect it is. The fact that it is impossible to point to a direct connection between the gift and the quid pro quo is not proof that the crime of bribery was not committed. A financial investment in a senior public figure can sometimes be a long-term affair.”

Writing on the same page, columnist Dan Margalit, argued: “The issue has nothing to do with criminality, but rather with norms. In a country whose president receives half a million dollars from a tycoon who is not a relative, it is impossible to put a junior civil servant on trial for having accepted a bribe in return for a building permit.”

Margalit, a former Washington correspondent who blew the whistle on then Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s illegal American bank account 23 years ago, broadened the attack on Weizman. “His intervention on behalf of peace with Syria represents a serious deviation from the kind of behavior one would expect from an Israeli president,” he wrote. “Weizman will destroy much more than just the presidency, because he is not prepared to represent the minority in this country; because, after an Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights, he will lack the moral authority to heal the wounds in our society; and because he sets such a poor example as to how civil servants should act.”

In truth, Ezer Weizman has more critics than enemies. His story is the story of Sabra Israel, in war and in peace, this last half century. When he figured in a “This is Your Life” TV program in the ’70s, the nation came to a halt. He is a rude charmer, a chivalrous male chauvinist. When he was accused not long ago of shooting from the hip, he retorted that the gunslinger who didn’t shoot from the hip ended up dead on the saloon floor.

If he does have to resign, no one will dance on his political grave. In the fall, after he had his gall bladder removed, it was whispered that he would step down this spring when he completed seven years in office. Sadly, he may no longer have that honorable option.