By Michael Bachner/TPS
Police continued the crackdown on the Israeli-Arab Knesset party Balad Wednesday, arresting 13 additional suspects on suspicion of fraud. The arrests bring the number of Balad activists, lawyers and accountants arrested since Sunday to 36. No Balad Knesset members have been arrested.
The police suspect that the new detainees, all party activists, have been involved in a money laundering ring to defraud the Israeli government by misrepresenting the origin of millions of shekels (at least hundreds of thousands of US dollars). 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. 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.” The party is more (Arab) nationalistic than the dovish and socialist Hadash party and the Islamic religious United Arab List. Balad MK Hanin Zoabi participated in the 2010 Mavi Marmara flotilla to Gaza, and more recently called IDF soldiers “murderers” in the Knesset plenum.
In February, Zoabi and fellow Balad MKs Jamal Zahalka and Basel Ghattas were suspended from all Knesset deliberations for four months for meeting with and honoring families of Palestinian terrorists.
The latest detainees 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 and the mountain will turn out to be a mouse.”TPS / Tazpit News Agency