Corruption might not rank quite as high as terrorism as the main concern of the Israelis. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist – or gets investigated or punished. Just ask Avraham Hirchson, Israel’s finance minister during May 2006-July 2007. As reported in these pages last September, Israeli police identified Hirchson as a central figure in a theft and money-laundering scheme that netted participants a combined $2.4 million from a prominent labor union. Though not indicted at the time, it seemed only a matter of time that he would, especially given that at least five alleged participants themselves had been arrested in January 2007. Now the indictment has come down.
On June 4, Israeli prosecutors charged Hirchson with embezzling at least $755,000 and possibly as much as $1.2 million from that country’s National Workers Union (also known as National Labor Federation), which he’d headed during 1998-2005. Authorities say he and 11 other persons, including his son, Ofer, sometime in 2003 conspired to divert funds from the labor federation’s education and health care subsidiaries to their personal accounts by writing phony checks. The government charged him with theft, aggravated fraud, breach of trust, and money-laundering. Hirchson has denied all charges. An ally of current Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, he resigned his government post last July to fight the accusations. He’s going to need a good lawyer. (United Press International, 6/4/08; Washington Times, 6/5/08).