More arrests in Israeli-Arab political party corruption

Israeli police have made further arrests over fraud, bringing the total number of Balad activists, lawyers and accountants arrested since Sunday, to 36.

Police continued its crackdown on the Israeli-Arab Knesset party Balad and arrested 13 additional suspects on Wednesday in connection with the fraud scandal that was exposed earlier this week.

The arrests bring the total number of Balad activists, lawyers and accountants arrested since Sunday, to 36. No Members of Knesset (MK) have been arrested.

The police suspect that the suspects, all party activists, have been involved in a money laundering ring to defraud the Israeli government by misrepresenting the origin of millions of shekels. Balad reported the money to have been donated from hundreds of donors in Israel, but police suspect the funds were in fact received from other sources, both in Israel and abroad, including from Arab countries.

Police have not provided further details.

Balad Party members allegedly committed a series of financial offenses, including money laundering, false reporting, forgery, receiving an object by deception under aggravated circumstances and numerous violations of the Political Parties Financing Law.

Balad is part of the Joint List faction in the Israeli parliament, a conglomeration of three Arab-majority parties, and describes itself as a “national party for the Palestinian citizens of Israel.” Its MKs have been involved in anti-Israel activities and have made numerous anti-Israel provocative statements.

The suspects arrested on Wednesday are expected to be brought before courts in northern and central Israel to extend their remand.

In addition, six of the 23 suspects arrested on Sunday will appear in court Wednesday and are expected to have their remands extended. The 17 remaining suspects will appear on Thursday.

The investigation was initiated several years ago following a report by State Comptroller Joseph Shapira and approved by the previous Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein, in keeping with the state attorney’s recommendation. The covert investigation was closely monitored by the state attorney’s office.

Balad officials denounced the crackdown Sunday as “political persecution.”

“This is a dangerous escalation and another stage in the campaign of political persecution against the Arab minority and its political movements,” said the party in a statement. “The real purpose is to silence Balad and harm its role as spearhead in the struggle against oppression and discrimination. Like in the past, this attempt will fail.”

By: Michael Bachner/TPS and World Israel News Staff.