Former Israeli Finance Minister Sentenced for Theft from Union

Avraham Hirchson was finance minister for Israel from May 2006 to July 2007. But it’s what he did in the preceding years that led to the end of his career. On Wednesday, June 24, an Israeli court sentenced Hirchson to five years and five months in prison for embezzling roughly 1.75 million shekels (US$600,000) from a labor union he’d headed during 1998-2005. Union Corruption Update last June reported that authorities had arrested Hirchson for embezzling at least $755,000 and possibly as much as $1.2 million from that country’s National Workers Union, also known as National Workers Labor Federation. In all, nearly a dozen other persons, including his son Ofer, were nabbed. In addition to serving a sentence, Hirchson will have to pay a fine of 450,000 shekels.

Israeli prosecutors alleged that Hirchson, now 68, and several other defendants conspired to write phony checks in order to divert funds from the labor organization’s education and health care plans to accounts. When indictments for theft, money-laundering and other offenses were handed down, Hirchson denied all charges, asserting he was being targeted by Israeli authorities to prevent him from instituting economic reforms. But the court believed otherwise, and convicted him earlier this month. Judge Bracha Tom noted the union under Hirchson’s leadership had become “a casino where senior executives took money that didn’t belong to them.”

Nearly as much as security issues, corruption dominates Israeli headlines, spilling over into politics. That’s why Hirchson wasn’t likely to last in his ministry position even if he had been found not guilty. A member of that country’s centrist Kadima Party, Hirchson, who not long earlier served as minister of both tourism and communications, was defeated for re-election for his seat in the Knesset this past February. His longstanding friendship with Ehud Olmert, who served as Israeli prime minister under the Kadima banner from 2006 until several months ago, couldn’t have helped either. Olmert left office three months ago (he’d officially resigned last summer and became interim prime minister) in the wake of unresolved accusations of corruption and a diagnosis of prostate cancer. Since the end of March, Israel’s prime minister has been Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu, who served in that office during 1996-99.