Netanyahu and Son Investigated for Using False Passport, Money Laundering Via Panama Account
Richard Silverstein, Tikun Olam, Jul 16 2016
Winston Churchill said after one of the earliest Allied victories during WW2: this is not the end, not even the beginning of the end. Rather it’s the end of the beginning. I think we’re more advanced in the case of Netanyahu. We may have just entered the beginning of the end of his seemingly endless reign over Israeli politics. Israeli social media has lit up with news of a new investigation of Bibi Netanyahu, his son Yair, and the PMO’s former chief of staff, Ari Harow. This story has not yet been reported by an Israeli mainstream publication and I don’t have an inside reliable source to confirm it, as I usually do when I post these stories. So what I’m reporting is based on what readers are sending me and what’s posted at Israeli social media sites. Despite not being able to affirm with certainty the reliability of the reports, they are important enough, and repeated enough for me to believe that there is a “there” there, to paraphrase Gertrude Stein.
Ari Harow with his patron, in happier days (Photo: Miriam Alster/Flash 90)
Netanyahu, according to this account, requested the Mossad provide his son with a false passport so that his security would be protected on overseas trips. But an account in the fictitious name of his passport was identified among the Panama Papers. Lots of money passed through this account. I’ve heard figures from $500k up to several million dollars. On the strength of the funds in this account, Yair is suspected of money laundering, possibly in order to avoid taxes or for another motive. According to one source, the guiding light behind the plan was Sara Netanyahu. Ari Harow’s case has been reported. When he was the chief fund-raiser for Pindosi Friends of the Likud, he met a New York pediatrician named Victor Deutsch. Harow sold his political consulting company, 3GH Global, to Deutsch for $3m. The new buyer was supposed to make regular payments as part of the purchase agreement. He made a few payments then, according to Harow he stopped. At that point, Harow claims he took back his company from the purchaser. Investigators are trying to track those payments, whether there were others that weren’t recorded, and where all the money went. Some are speculating it went into Bibi’s pocket or into funding the Likud’s last election campaign. It also seems odd that a medical doctor would buy a political consulting company, and the price paid also seems suspiciously high considering Harow’s company had very few clients. On the corporate website, it mentions only two clients: the former rightist Spanish prime minister, Jose Anzar and Paraguay’s newly elected president. Harow pimped for the Friends of Israel (FOI) initiative. This is a propaganda project involving Aznar, Richard Kemp, David Trimble, John Bolton & other well-paid pro-Israel advocates. Among other things, they promoted Israel’s killing machine in Gaza after the Mavi Marmara incident. Harow’s contract to promote their work further cements the reputation of FOI as a creature of official Israeli hasbara. Times of Israel reports that investigators are considering offering Harow immunity if he will testify against his former boss, the prime minister. That would be quite a sight!
Netanyahu family (Yair, r.) in happier days (Photo: Kobi Gideon/Israel Sun)
I also continue to hear rumours reported by several Israeli bloggers that the Likud engineered a massive electoral fraud which involved 300,000 excess “voters” casting ballots in the final two hours of the 2015 national election, which added 8 seats to Likud’s tally and made the difference between a Likud-led coalition and a Labor-led coalition. As Likud campaign manager during the past two elections, Harow may have some interesting stories to tell. The State attorney general, Avichai Mandelblit and the special corruption unit of the national police are deep into a complex investigation of these matters. At this point, one can’t say whether all this will blow over as it always has for Netanyahu in the past when he’s faced similar charges; or whether this will transform itself into a career-threatening scandal. I recall a similar process which brought down Ehud Olmert, a few years ago. There were rumours of his past corrupt dealings which gradually morphed into full-scale investigations. No sooner did one scandal appear to fade than a new one rose to take its place. Soon, the drumbeat of corrupt deals and pay-offs grew into a roar that could no longer be avoided. It took quite some time, I recall around two years, before Olmert was finally forced to resign. Now he sits in prison. I have little doubt that’s where Bibi will sit one day, a forlorn, badly dressed convict, as Olmert now is. But this won’t happen overnight. The same pattern is repeating itself. The scandals come in rapid succession. They grow increasingly serious. The cries of consternation from political allies and average Israelis grow stronger with each new one. The thought that Bibi could resign turns from a distant-possibility to a near certainty. All this happened in Olmert’s case as well.
Ehud Olmert enters prison (Photo: Ariel Schalit/AP)
Expect some interesting political positioning in the ruling coalition. Soon we’ll see the Night of the Long Knives with aspirants for, or pretenders to the throne maneuvering for advantage. I anticipate the first blow will be struck by Pres Reuven Rivlin, who’s been shunned and belittled by Netanyahu for years. Wait for a statement from Rivlin expressing criticism of corruption in high places (no names, of course). Once you hear this it will only be a matter of time before every other rightist politician who’s ever crossed swords with Bibi (Bennett, Lieberman, Yaalon, Kahlon, Danon, etc.) to sharpen their blades and prepare for the succession fight. As I’ve written here before, no one should fool themselves that Bibi’s demise will change anything fundamentally in Israeli politics. Corruption will remain endemic. The Likud will remain in power. The next prime minister may have a better smile, he may be slightly more upright or careful, or may have more rapport with the people. But his policies will be little different than Netanyahu’s. So don’t make the mistake of thinking with Bibi finally gone Israel can turn a page and start afresh. This book will never end until someone from outside Israel takes it upon themselves to bring it to a close. And that will not happen any time soon.
Netanyahu Corruption Scandal Envelops Wealthy Pindosi Haredi Family
Richard Silverstein, Tikun Olam, Jul 17 2016
Shlomo Rechnitz (Photo: David Livingston/Getty)
The only thing better than a nice, juicy sex scandal is a nice, juicy corruption scandal. Bibi Netanyahu has already had his very own sex scandal. But it didn’t manage to wreck his career or his marriage. The brewing corruption scandal threatens to do at least one, if not the other. I reported yesterday on an investigation that has caught up Netanyahu, his son Yair, possibly his wife Sara, and his former chief of staff Ari Harow. Today, a Channel 2 news report snares a new player in the scandal, Shlomo Rechnitz. There’s a baseball saying: you can’t tell the players without a scorecard. As this criminal probe expands, I’ll try to keep the players clearly identified and offer some background. Rechnitz comes from a wealthy, extended ultra-Orthodox family based in California. The scion of the family and Shlomo’s uncle, is Robert Rechnitz, a real estate investor who founded the Bomel Companies and an Israeli subsidiary, Bomel Israel. He has been vice chairman of the Republican Jewish Coalition and founded a Congressional lobbying group on behalf of Israel’s Iron Dome anti-rocket system (or should I say, “racket system?) the Iron Dome Tribute. He even developed a branding slogan: “the Humane Defensive Weapon.” I always thought the words “humane” and “weapon” were oxymorons. But not in the topsy-turvy world that is pro-Israel advocacy. I learned all this not from Wikipedia or Rechnitz’s corporate biography, but from the corporate PR firm Rechnitz hired to polish his image, the Friedlander Group. Unfortunately, he didn’t hire them to monitor the reputation of his children and close family members. Because now two of them are in very hot water. His nephew, Shlomo owns the largest nursing home conglomerate in California: Brius Healthcare Services (brius is the Yiddish version of the word for “health”). The State of California has investigated his firm numerous times for violations of health regulations. He was the subject of a class-action suit. His Pasadena nursing care facility was accused of recruiting felons as patients. Several employees faced criminal charges from that escapade. He complained once to the Sacramento Bee that the charges against him made him out to be “the Charles Manson of the nursing home business.” I’m guessing no one from Friedlander was available to accompany him to this interview. That image really sticks in your mind.
Robert Rechnitz with Bibi
Not to mention the time he announced that his employees, for whom he’d purchased 18,000 Powerball tickets, had won the Powerball jackpot. The NYT even featured him in a major story. Well, it turns out it wasn’t true. It was all a hoax, supposedly perpetrated by the son of one of the “winning” employees. Rechnitz is also reported to have bought the anti-Haredi blog, Failed Messiah, written for years by Shmaryahu Rosenberg. Rechnitz and many of his associates had been skewered in its posts for years. Though conditions of the sale were not made public, they apparently bar Rosenberg from creating a new blog; or at least one covering the same subject as his old one. That online property promptly disappeared from the internet. Clearly, the Haredi community had withstood the slings and arrows of outrageous (mis)fortune from Rosenberg’s pen for too long. The tycoon stepped in to end the attacks. Lately, a new iteration of the blog, Lost Messiah, was launched by former readers of the old blog who wished to maintain the service it had done to the Orthodox community and the Jewish world. Rechnitz appears to be playing a lead role in the Scandal of the Day as a major donor to Netanyahu and the Likud. His uncle, Robert, was the western chair of American Friends of the Likud, which would mean he both donated and raised massive sums from Orthodox Jews on behalf of the Israel far-right. As such, the elder Rechnitz would’ve worked closely with Ari Harow, the man in the spotlight of the current scandal. That’s how Shlomo would’ve come to the attention of the Israeli police investigating the money-laundering operation. Among Shlomo’s wide and varied philanthropic endeavours was funding Hebron yeshivas, among the most virulently racist and violent in Israel. I haven’t dug deeply into the background of Victor Deutsch, Harow’s former business partner. But I wouldn’t be surprised if he too is Orthodox and perhaps a close friend of the Rechnitz family. If this guess turns out to be true, Deutsch would have excellent motive to benefit Harow and the Likud by the sort of fraudulent business transaction they’re accused of arranging, in selling the latter’s company for $3m in largely unaccounted-for funds.
Another Rechnitz facing the glare of bad PR is Jona, Robert’s son and cousin to Shlomo. Jona began his career in real estate working for Lev Leviev’s Africa Israel. Leviev, who began his own career as a blood diamond merchant to the stars, also maintains vast real estate holdings in the USreal & Britain. His company has also built Israeli settlements. Jona helped manage the Leviev real estate portfolio in New York until they had a falling out. After that, Rechnitz formed his own company, JSR Capital. Jona and another wealthy Hasidic Jew have been swept up in the bribery and corruption scandal which has rocked the De Blasio administration in NYC. They did favours for the corrupt head of the city prison officers union, Norman Seabrook, and offered gifts and benefits to senior police officers in the precinct where they lived. Among the crooked deals was a $60k payment to Seabrook (paid in a $1k Ferragamo handbag) in return for the union boss’ steering $20m to a Rechnitz associate’s investment fund. Seabrook was miffed as he’d been told he could net $150k from the arrangement. Among other favours were all-expenses paid gambling junkets to Las Vegas on a private jet. Another part of the entertainment provided was a prostitute dressed as a flight attendant whose “services” included far more than providing drinks and snacks. Presumably, Rechnitz did this so he could gain favorable service response and attention from local police personnel in Brooklyn Orthodox neighborhoods. But he had even bigger ambitions, which led him and his associate made six-figure donations to various DeBlasio political fund-raising vehicles once he’d won the Democrat mayoral primary. Jona lobbied the City Council and succeeded in gaining a $655k “discretionary” allocation to underwrite a “cultural sensitivity” police training seminar hosted by the Simon Wiesenthal Center, which was Rechnitz’ pet project. Presumably, part of the curriculum was learning sensitivity to the special interests of the Haredi community. You certainly won’t find any sensitivity to the Muslim community in this program. All of this paints a portrait of a wealthy Haredi family parlaying money into political clout on a local, national and international scale. Unlike other Pindosi families in which wealth is wielded within discrete nuclear families, in the Haredi world extended families (clans) unite to pursue objectives that benefit both their families personally and their extended Orthodox communities. It’s certainly cleaner and less deadly than the old Italian mob. But as the Netanyahu investigation shows, it’s no less venal and corrupt.
Israeli Knesset Probes Netanyahu on Corruption Scandal
Richard Silverstein, Tikun Olam, Jul 19 2016
MK Erel Margalit quoted your article without giving name/credit, and attacked the PM in the Knesset. He called it Hon Darkon Olam Tachton (a passport to wealth from the underworld.) You know what it means. Cool! Your blog post was the talk of the Knesset today. MKs used it to question Bibi and he answered the question. It seems like Israel really needs your website in order to make headlines. The Q&A made the TV headlines, you did great!
It appears that my posts and this debate has challenged authorities to reveal more than they previously had. This resulted in Haaretz publishing a far more detailed account (Hebrew version) of the charges in the case. This account largely agrees with what I’ve published and adds new details. The major suspicion is that Yair and Sara Netanyahu concocted a scheme with Likud Pindosi fundraiser, Ari Harow, to solicit large sums from wealthy Pindo Jewish donors. These donations were not for political purposes, but rather to finance the high-living life-style which both had become accustomed to. Haaretz says the main donor under suspicion is a relative of Shlomo Rechnitz. I’m not sure why they simply can’t name Yona Rechnitz as this is clearly the figure to which they’re alluding. It should be noted that other sources have named Shlomo as the target. But Haaretz may be correct in targeting Jona. After all, he is the same one who feted police brass with prostitutes, diamonds and Las Vegas junkets. All this begins to resemble the Ehud Olmert scandal in which Morris Taslansky played the role Harow is now playing. You’ll recall that Taslansky was a “good old boy” who had served as a professional fundraiser for a number of USraeli Jewish charities. Through this experience he ended up as Olmert’s Pindostan bagman, hefting Slimfast boxes full of cash to Olmert’s New York hotel from Daniel Abraham, meant for Olmert’s personal use. In the end, these aren’t the charges which toppled
Netanyahu Olmert. Instead, they got him on charges of taking bribes from real estate developers during his tenure as Jayloomia mayor. But these were the charges that got people’s attention in the same way that the Rechnitz-Harow affair may do to Netanyahu. The Olmert case also resembles the Bibi scandal in that a state’s witness brought down the whole house of cards. In Olmert’s case it was Shula Zaken his loyal secretary for decades. In Bibi’s case it’s Harow. Though I do hear that there may be another state’s witness so far unidentified. I’m delighted to report that both Bibi and the attorney general, Avichai Mandelblit both attacked my work, and the work of other Israeli social media activists in statements they made before the Knesset:
Mandelblit said that publication of the details will damage the inquiry and that Netanyahu himself knows noting about it. When I decide that there will no longer be danger of any damage, things will become known to the public. We must balance the public’s right to know against doing damage, and this does damage. I don’t intend to engage in this. It will cause harm. I don’t intend to tell anything.
Since Mandelblit is directly challenging the work of myself and other Israeli activists I say in response that he has it all wrong. The time to be transparent isn’t after the investigation is over. It’s during the investigation. If you wait too long then Netanyahu will have an opportunity to manipulate the numerous levers of control he has to suppress the facts and turn the debate in his favor, or at least tamp it down from a fire to smoldering embers. Silence never works in the public’s favor. It always works in favor of the elites. And Bibi is a reigning member of the Israeli political elites. Netanyahu himself sputtered with indignation at questions from MKs which relied in part on my posts:
Bubkes. There’s been a flood of nonsense, of foolishness, of inventions, of lies. They’ve been trying to do this for years and they found nothing for the simple reason that there is nothing. There never was anything. In this instance as well, there’s no fire, no smoke, just hot air. I tell those who speculate and those who maintain hope in their hearts [that he will fall]: stop measuring the drapes.
Netanyahu and his family will be questioned as well, though they have not as yet. Originally, Bibi was to face interrogators tomorrow, though that has been postponed.