Health Ministry graft affair witnesses said cooperating with police

Menachem Gesheid  credit: YouTube, Yehuda Shabo

Police are probing donations to charities associated with the Gur hassidic sect and transactions with newspaper "Hamodia".

The overt investigation of the corruption affair at the Ministry of Health continues at the Israel Police Lahav 433 fraud unit in Lod. Some of the suspects have been arrested, some have been detained and questioned under caution, and others have been questioned as witnesses. Sources inform "Globes" that some of those questioned are cooperating with the police and providing information that advances the investigation.

The police investigation has so far uncovered suspicion of corrupt connections between current and former aides of government minister Yaakov Litzman, who are or were public servants, and lobbying firms and commercial companies: food company Tnuva, Roche Pharmaceuticals (Israel) Ltd., which is the local subsidiary of Swiss healthcare company Roche, and a medical services company.

The covert investigation became overt with the arrest of four suspects: Motti Babchik (41), a senior aide to Litzman; Menachem Gesheid (41), a journalist and an aide to Litzman when the latter was Deputy Minister of Health; Erez Gilhar (50), CEO of lobbing firm Policy; and Avi Danziger, CEO of Roche Pharmaceuticals (Israel) Ltd. Other suspects are two former senior managers at Tnuva whose names may not be published, and a former CEO and a current VP of a medical services company connected to the Ministry of Health though tenders.

The suspicion is that the three companies bought services from entities connected with the Gur hassidic sect to which Babchik and Gesheid belong. Among other things, the suspicion is being examined of donations to non-profit organizations, one of which is Refuah Viyeshua, associated with the Gur sect, which helps needy medical patients.

The suspicions against Tnuva relate to alleged bribery in the form of donations to non-profit organizations associated with the Gur sect in order to promote the interests of the company in the Ministry of Health in connection with legislation sponsored by the ministry on marking of food products with high sugar, sodium, and fat content, which came into force on January1, 2020.

The former senior Tnuva manager claimed to the police that she was not involved in decisions concerning donations, that the sole responsibility for approving donations rested with Tnuva CEO Eyal Malis, and that she resigned from the company when she saw what was being done over her head. Malis has given evidence to the police and has not been questioned under caution.

"Globes" has also learned that the police are investigating the suspicion that Tnuva sponsored a conference held by the "Hamodia" newspaper, which is identified with Litzman and the Agudat Yisrael party he leads (part of the United Torah Judaism alliance).

The investigation raised the suspicion that Erez Gilhar, CEO of Boris Karasani's lobbying firm Policy, worked with the Ministry of Health and with Hamodia and connected the newspaper to the companies. Erez Gilhar is the brother of Liad Gilhar, who is responsible for regulation at Tnuva, and of journalist Dov Gilhar.

Also being investigated are Roche Pharmaceuticals (Israel) Ltd.,, which has over 100 employees, and another medical services company connected to the Ministry of Health through several tenders that was selected to carry out Covid-19 tests for passengers landing at Ben Guron Airport. A senior Ministry of Health official recently left for a job with the company. The investigation focuses on a NIS 50,000 donation by the company to Refuah Viyeshua, one of many donations made by the company.

Tnuva said in response: "Tnuva has acted and acts in accordance with the law and principles of corporate governance. The company and its managers are cooperating and will cooperate with the investigation as much as is required."

Adv. Dror Matityahu, who represents the former CEO of the medical services company said that his client had contributed over the years, financially and as a volunteer, to dozens of non-profit organizations unconnected to the company, and that he had left the company in 2020, since when he had devoted his time mainly to voluntary activity with educational charities, and that he denied any connection to the matters under investigation.

The criminal investigation of Erez Gilhar, Avi Danziger, Motti Babchik, and Menachem Gesheid is at an early stage. The suspects deny the allegations against them, none of them has been convicted of a crime, and they are entitled to the presumption of innocence.

Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on June 8, 2021

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2021

Menachem Gesheid  credit: YouTube, Yehuda Shabo
Menachem Gesheid credit: YouTube, Yehuda Shabo
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