Scandals and criminal investigations have been common in Israeli politics
Some officials were convicted and served time in prison
With the ongoing corruption probe of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, here’s a look back at other graft scandals in Israeli politics.
Every prime minister in the last 20 years has been the subject of such an investigation, including Ehud Olmert and Ariel Sharon. But it’s more than just prime ministers: Dozens of cabinet ministers, Knesset members and mayors also were investigated.
These investigations fall to Lahav 433, an anti-corruption unit within the Israel Police that investigates both public officials and private citizens. Lahav 433 also fights organized crime.
Here are some of the big names who were questioned – and in some cases, convicted – over their business dealings:
Netanyahu has been the subject of criminal investigations before. In 1997, during his first term as Prime Minister, he was investigated for possible charges of fraud and breach of trust. Netanyahu was accused of appointing an attorney general who would offer favorable treatment to a political ally. Police recommended charging Netanyahu, but prosecutors declined to file charges.
Two years later, Netanyahu was again investigated for fraud, this time for accusations involving a government contractor. Once again, he was not charged. Netanyahu denied any wrongdoing and promised he wasn’t going anywhere, similar to the promises he’s making today.
Sharon was suspected of taking hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes in the late 1990s in what came to be known as the “Greek Island Affair.” Prosecutors recommended bringing charges against him, but the attorney general felt there was insufficient evidence. The accusation involved Israeli businessman David Appel bribing Sharon, who was then serving as Foreign Minister, to help Appel win approval for a development in Greece.
Ehud Olmert is serving a 19-month prison sentence for fraud and breach of trust in a scandal known as the “Holyland Affair.” Olmert was convicted in 2012 of taking bribes related to a housing project in Jerusalem, where he served as mayor before becoming Prime Minister of Israel. Olmert was then convicted in 2015 of taking bribes in what is called the “Talansky Affair.” American businessman Morris Talansky testified that he gave Olmert envelopes stuffed with cash.
In his role as Interior Minister, Deri was convicted of taking bribes, fraud, and breach of public trust in 1999. The case dragged on through most of the 1990s. In the end, the court acquitted Deri of a second bribery charge and a charge that he falsified documents while serving in the Interior Ministry. Deri served a two-year sentence. After his release he re-entered politics and now once again serves as Interior Minister.
Lieberman, who now serves as Israel’s Defense Minister, has faced repeated questioning about his business dealings. He has been interrogated on suspicion of money laundering, fraud, and breach of trust in a long-running corruption probe that still resurfaces in the Israeli news. In late 2012, Lieberman was charged with breach of trust and fraud, but he did not face the more serious charges of money laundering and witness tampering. He was acquitted on all charges.