Police on Monday recommended tax evasion charges be brought against a former IDF brigadier general who was once in the running to be Israel’s top cop.
Gal Hirsch, who left the IDF in 2006 amid criticism over the army’s failures in the Second Lebanon War, was nominated in 2015 to serve as Israel’s next police commissioner, but the appointment was derailed by reports of corruption probes into his business dealings as head of the defense services firm Defensive Shield in the intervening years.
On Monday, a four-year police and Tax Authority investigation cleared Hirsch of the most serious allegations — bribery of Georgia’s former defense minister — while recommending his indictment for aggravated fraud, money laundering and alleged tax evasion valued at tens of millions of shekels.
Police also recommended indictments against Hirsch’s business partner Oded Shachnai and six others.
Police said no evidence was found to substantiate the bribery suspicions.
The police recommendations allege that Hirsch and Shachnai established multiple foreign companies and overseas bank accounts to hold Defensive Shield’s profits from defense contracts in Georgia between 2007 and 2009 in order to avoid reporting the funds to Israeli tax authorities.
The companies are registered in Panama and the bank accounts are in Switzerland, police said.
In a statement, police on Monday charged that “vast sums of tens of millions of shekels were transferred from the Georgian defense ministry to Israeli and foreign bank accounts linked to Defensive Shield staff, amid suspected misleading of foreign financial institutions, which refused to receive funds coming from defense deals in Georgia. Evidence points to false reporting and the presentation of falsified documents to these foreign financial institutions as to the sources of the money.”
If he is found guilty of the recommended charges, Hirsch could face a sentence of up to seven years in prison.
The now-closed bribery case involved accusations, including by a state’s witness who was a former employee of Defensive Shield, that Hirsch had bribed Georgia’s then-defense minister Davit Kezerashvili to advance Defensive Shield’s business interests in the country. The company took part in training units of the Georgian military during Kezerashvili’s term from 2006 to 2008.
Kezerashvili has faced separate corruption accusations in Georgia.
Hirsch has claimed he was the target of a corrupt police witch hunt meant to prevent him from becoming police chief, because of his plans to institute deep reforms of the country’s law enforcement authorities.
Hirsch was nominated for the position of police commissioner by current Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan in August 2015, but shortly after his nomination was announced, media reports surfaced saying that the FBI and Israel Police had been conducting a two-year undercover corruption investigation into businesses linked to him.
Hirsch’s nomination was revoked a month later, on September 23, by Erdan after then-attorney general Yehuda Weinstein said that he could not be legally appointed until the conclusion of the investigation against him, a process that Weinstein said at the time could take months.
Facing Hirsch’s claims of a police conspiracy to torpedo his appointment, Weinstein appointed a special investigative team that did not include the customary police representative.
The team submitted its initial findings in early October of that year, after Hirsch’s nomination had already been withdrawn. It recommended a criminal investigation, which was formally launched on October 8, 2015.
More than three years later, with the investigation still underway, in December 2018, Hirsch announced the launch of a new political party, Magen Israel (“Shield of Israel”), to run in the April 2019 elections. He said at the time that his goal in entering politics was to eventually be appointed public security minister so he could lead reforms of the police.
“Unfortunately, I was deprived of the right to serve you, and that hurts me the most,” he said in a speech announcing Magen’s formation. “I could not fulfill the task that was given to me by the prime minister three and a half years ago.”
He added: “When Magen comes to the Knesset and I am public security minister, I will take care of you from there, because security forces, rescue and emergency forces are a necessity for all of us. The police are an important body that affects every citizen’s life.”
But just two days after announcing his Knesset run, first reports reached the Hebrew media of the tax-evasion suspicions against the ex-general.
Hirsch reacted angrily to those reports, alleging they were another attempted political assassination and calling them a “predictable response” to his announcement.
Defending his right to run for office despite the allegations, Hirsch also gave implicit backing at the time to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is implicated in three separate graft probes.
“As long as the person is not convicted, he is a legitimate and legal candidate,” Hirsch said. “There is something called the presumption of innocence, and you know I know what I’m talking about when I talk about leaks and drumhead trials in the media,” he added bitterly, referring to allegations both he and Netanyahu have leveled against their respective accusers.
Hirsch has not opted to run again with Magen in September, and last week formally joined the Likud party as a member and was placed in the 100th, unrealistic slot on its Knesset slate ahead of the elections.
On Monday, after the indictment recommendations were announced, Likud joined in his criticism of the police, saying in a sarcastic statement: “A week after Gal Hirsch joins Likud, police recommend an indictment. That’s unquestionably a coincidence.”
An unnamed police official rejected the accusation on Monday, telling Channel 12 that “no one is trying to bring fake charges against Hirsch. If there was any act here to stymie anything, it was the effort to obstruct the police and Tax Authority investigation.”
A police official also defended the length of the investigation, saying it was a “complex and multifaceted” probe “that had significant international aspects, mainly because the suspicions were that some of the alleged crimes were committed outside Israel, and so required the cooperation of other states to advance the investigation.”
Hirsch’s attorneys praised the decision to close the bribery probe, noting that another probe of Defensive Shield, involving a mine-clearing contract with the central Israeli city of Rishon Lezion, was also closed for lack of evidence.
That decision “speaks for itself and raises serious questions about the decision to launch these investigations, which led to the cancellation of his appointment as police commissioner,” attorneys Navot Tel-Zur, Giora Aderet and Tal Shapira said in a statement Monday.
The statement added that Hirsch “vehemently rejects the suspicions attributed to him. Hirsch committed no crime, reported all his income fully and paid his taxes as required under law. At most, this is a civil disagreement, and we are sure and certain that once the state prosecution examines the case, it will be closed like the other two, finally ending the long, incomprehensible saga of delayed justice that has been inflicted on Hirsch and his family since the torpedoing of his appointment as Israel Police commissioner in 2015.”