Ever since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the flood of immigrants from Eastern Europe to Israel, the country’s police have warned about attempts by the Russian Mafia to infiltrate the Israeli business and political establishments.
But never before has an official investigation raised as chilling a possibility as the one revealed this past week, which suggests that Russian Mafia money was used to buy 20 percent of the shares in Bezeq, the country’s state-controlled fixed-line telephone monopoly.
Under investigation is Gad Zeevi, one of Israel’s most influential businessmen, and Mikhail Chernoy, a Russian immigrant long rumored to have ties with the Russian Mafia.
Sources reveal that the police believe that Zeevi was the front man for a plot, according to which Chernoy would funnel hundreds of millions of dollars worth of “dirty” money into Israel to be laundered by one of the country’s most important business concerns.
Zeevi was arrested, interrogated, and then released on bail. Chernoy was placed under house arrest for 10 days, after spending the night in police detention.
If they decide to press charges, Zeevi and Chernoy are likely to be indicted for fraud, including a violation of a new anti-money laundering law, which went into effect a few months ago. Zeevi also is suspected of having concealed the fact that Chernoy financed the Bezeq share purchase.
Because the telephone company is considered an asset of strategic national importance, the law requires that all its shareholders reveal the sources of all their capital.
The police are investigating whether any politicians and officials from the ministry of communications were involved in advancing the deal. Likely to be investigated is Benjamin (Fuad) Ben-Eliezer, the minister of communication in the former government, and Israel’s current minister of defense.
Reportedly, the police would like to know how Zeevi got the go-ahead to buy the shares from Ben-Eliezer’s ministry without a proper background check being conducted.
Chernoy, who is nominally a metal dealer, has long been suspected of ties to organized crime in the former Soviet Union. Law enforcement authorities in a number of countries—including France, Great Britain, the United States, Canada, Switzerland and Bulgaria—have attempted to prove his involvement in illegal business, including money laundering, extortion and drug trafficking. To date, all these attempts have proved unsuccessful.
Chernoy lives in a luxury neighborhood in the Tel Aviv metropolitan area, and reportedly will not travel out of the country due to his fears of being arrested.
In December last year, Chernoy was named in a New York lawsuit against Russky Aluminy, Russia's leading aluminum producer, in which he is major shareholder, for alleging racketeering, money laundering, extortion, fraud, and attempted murder. The plaintiffs in the claim demand $900 million in damages and losses, and a total of $2.7 billion in compensatory and punitive damages.
One politician who has jumped to Chernoy’s defense is Israel’s right-wing infrastructure minister, Avigdor Lieberman, who himself was born in the former Soviet Union. Chernoy, Lieberman said, is more credible than the police officers investigating him. It should noted that Lieberman himself was recently charged by police for assaulting two children in the West Bank settlement in which he resides. – (Albawaba-MEBG)
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