Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Israeli businessman Nanikashvili to spend 14 months in prison for bribing minister

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A prominent businessman was sentenced to more than a year in prison and fined NIS one million ($289,000) on Monday, several months after he was convicted of bribing a government minister.

The Tel Aviv District Court ordered Avraham Nanikashvili incarcerated for 14 months for giving the late minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer a $400,000 bribe in 2011, when Ben-Eliezer led the National Infrastructure Ministry (now the Energy Ministry). In return Ben-Eliezer allegedly helped advance Nanikashvili’s interests in his capacity as minister.

At the sentencing, the judge declared the case to be “unique and unusual” and said that it could not be be weighed in the manner of most normal cases of bribery of public officials, He noted that the initiative for the payoff had been Ben-Eliezer’s and that Nanikashvili’s history of philanthropy had to be taken into account.

“His good deeds are on his side,” he said.

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Nanikashvili was convicted in August, three years to the day after Ben-Eliezer’s death.

Ben-Eliezer is believed to have made policy decisions that benefited Nanikashvili’s holdings in oil and gas, and provided an affidavit in support of Nanikashvili as part of the latter’s appeal process with tax authorities.

The money given to Ben-Eliezer is believed to have been used in his purchase of an upscale home in Jaffa.

The funds were documented by Nanikashvili and Ben-Eliezer as a loan, and both claimed as much when questioned on the matter. However, prosecutors noted that it was never returned, nor did Nanikashvili ever seek its return. The judge accepted the prosecutors’ assertion, saying the connection between the money and Ben-Eliezer’s actions was clear.

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Ben-Eliezer himself was indicted on graft charges involving bribery by several businessman in 2016 but died at the age of 80 before the trial could proceed. The former MK, general and defense minister had been a candidate for president in 2014 but was forced to withdraw and quit politics due to the allegations against him.

A second defendant in the case, Roy Mussaffi, was exonerated in August of bribing Ben-Eliezer. He had been suspected of gifting the minister with NIS 700,000 (approx. $200,000) in return for Ben-Eliezer helping him obtain Egyptian visas for his employees.

But unlike in Nanikashvili’s case, the judge accepted Mussaffi’s assertion that the money was a loan, noting that the two had been close friends for years and that Ben-Eliezer’s help in obtaining the visas was given three years prior to Mussaffi giving him the money.

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