JERUSALEM – Israel’s Knesset (parliament) member Benjamin Ben Eliezer announced Saturday that he is withdrawing from the presidential race to be held Tuesday amid corruption allegations leveled against him.
Ben Eliezer was interrogated by the Israeli police for five hours Friday on suspicion that he received hundreds of thousands of dollars from a businessman, Avraham Nanikashvil, whose name was linked to another corruption affair at the Ashdod Port in Israel’s southern coastal strip along the Mediterranean sea, Xinhua reported.
He was allegedly accepted bribes, did not report the sums he received, with the money he purchased an expensive penthouse, and evaded tax payment.
He had served in the past three decades in various public roles, including chairman of the Labor party, defense minister and as the prime minister’s deputy.
In an official statement in which he announced his withdrawal from the race. Ben-Eliezer said that the surfacing of the allegations three days before the presidential elections is not coincidental.
“In the final stretch of a long competition — in which I, in all humility, was the leading candidate — I was invited with only a 20 minutes warning to the police to be questioned about the sources of financing as to my apartment,” he said, referring to a penthouse he had purchased.
“I answered every question and even delivered all appropriate documentation and proof. Every shekel(penny) paid to purchase the apartment was transparent and known,” he added.
“I hope that the ‘targeted assassination’ I have experienced will be the last affair in the current race for presidency.”
The Knesset will elect a new president to replace Shimon Peres, whose presidency ends in late July, June 10. The leading candidate is Reuven Rivlin, but Ben Eliezer was thought to be a close runner-up who might challenge Rivlin in a second round.
Candidates must receive more than 61 votes out of 120 in order to win the nomination, therefore it is likely there will be a second round between the two top candidates. — IANS