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01 September 2009 

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Two Former Israeli Cabinet Ministers Jailed for Corruption

01 September 2009

Corruption scandals are toppling former senior officials in the Israeli government.

Two former Israeli Cabinet ministers have begun jail terms.

Shlomo Benizri, an ultra-Orthodox member of Israel's parliament, left, is seen outside the district court of Jerusalem (File Photo - 27 Apr 2008)
Shlomo Benizri, an ultra-Orthodox member of Israel's parliament, left, is seen outside the district court of Jerusalem (File Photo - 27 Apr 2008)
Former Finance Minister Avraham Hirchson was convicted of embezzling hundreds of thousands of dollars from a labor union and was sentenced to five years in prison. Ultra-Orthodox politician Shlomo Benizri was sentenced to four years after being convicted of taking bribes while serving as minister of labor and welfare.

The men went to jail two days after former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was indicted for fraud and breach of trust. He is accused of taking envelopes stuffed with cash from an American Jewish businessman to support a lavish lifestyle and of double-billing institutions for public trips abroad.

The corruption cases are from the time Mr. Olmert was mayor of Jerusalem and a Cabinet member, before he became prime minister in 2006.

In addition, former President Moshe Katsav is on trial, after being forced to resign over allegations of rape.

Legal analyst Dan Eisenberg of The Jerusalem Post says times have changed since the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948. He says the corruption scandals are a sign of lost innocence.

"I do not think that it was true in the pioneering years, and you know, the first leaders of Israel I think were, they were idealistic," he said. "But you begin to develop a structure, and the country becomes wealthier and it attracts different kinds of leaders than the first ones."

Eisenberg says corruption became so widespread that Israelis simply accepted it. But now, there is strong public support for a crackdown.

"It is a positive sign in the sense that there are so many indictments," added Eisenberg. "In that sense, at least they are uncovering these people and making them pay penalties for what they are doing."

If convicted, Ehud Olmert could become the first Israeli to go from the Prime Minister's Office to a prison cell.    

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