Finance Minister May Turn State's Witness

The scope of the charges against Finance Minister Avraham Hirschson may lead him to turn state's witness.

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Nissan Ratzlav-Katz and Ezra HaLevi , | updated: 8:46 PM

Finance Minister Avraham Hirschson
Finance Minister Avraham Hirschson
Investigative reporter Yoav Yitzchak has found that the allegations against Finance Minister Avraham Hirchson of Kadima are much more serious than initially reported.

Hirchson is suspected of buying off a senior unnamed government official for $200,000. He is also part of an even larger corruption case and is reportedly being offered the opportunity of turning state’s witness.

Several cases were reported by Channel 10 and Army Radio as well, involving the receipt by Hirchson of envelopes full of money and being nabbed by Polish Police with a suitcase full of money intended for the March of the Living program.

Police are also investigating a suspicious land deal in which a relative of Hirschson’s business partner bought land in Binyamina that quickly rose in value due to Hirshson’s involvement.

Hirschson is to face further police questioning next week following seven hours of interrogation on Tuesday. Police spokespersons said the suspicions against Hirschson include involvement in fraud, embezzlement, obstruction of justice and conspiring to commit a crime. The Finance Minister is suspected of having embezzled more than one million dollars from a non-profit organization.

Police are also investigating the connection between Hirschson and Prime Minister Olmert, says journalist Yoav Yitzchak. Yitzchak, who previously disclosed questionable real estate deals made by the Prime Minister, wrote that Olmert is suspected of having used funds Hirschson made available when both men were Likud MKs, in 1999. Olmert was running at the time against Ariel Sharon for the party leadership. Police are investigating whether Olmert returned approximately $50,000 that Hirschson transferred to him. They also are probing whether the transfer of money was reported as the law requires.

Hirschson, a Kadima party minister, has not commented on the investigation except to generally deny the claims against him. Prime Minister Olmert has not issued any statement regarding the case; sources close to the investigation say Olmert is not implicated at this stage.

A Justice Ministry official said there is no "immediate need" to take action to suspend Hirschson, who was Tourism Minister in the Sharon government when the alleged violations took place. However, several sources have indicated that his days as Finance Minister are numbered in the face of growing public and media criticism. He himself has said that he will resign if instructed to do by Attorney General Mazuz. Speculation has already begun as to who will replace him as Finance Minister.

Avraham Hirschson is the chairman of a Likud-affiliated national labor union and the Leumit Health Fund, as well as a founder and president of the March of the Living project. Questions regarding the use of March of the Living funds - millions of dollars in participant fees and state funds - have been raised against Hirschson. In 2002, a complaint filed with the Non-Profit Associations Registrar alleged that Hirschson was using the March of the Living offices for his own political activity. Investigators at the time found that an inactive association, ostensibly established for March of the Living activities, had not submitted financial reports or required legal documentation.


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