Police have requested – and been granted – an extension of remand for 20 officials of the Balad party who were arrested early Sunday on corruption charges. The 20 were allegedly part of a huge money-laundering scheme allegedly run by officials of the Arab Balad party, now a member of the United Arab List. The list of detainees include prominent members of Galilee Arab communities, including lawyers, accountants and local authority officials.
Further arrests are suspected, although police did not say whether those arrests would include any of the Balad MKs – Jamal Zahalka, Basel Ghattas or Hanin Zoabi. Police raided the offices of the party in several cities early Sunday, seizing documents, computers and other evidence.
According to the party, the arrests are baseless, and part of the “political persecution” Balad is subjected to. Balad MKs are all outspoken opponents of the State of Israel and each of them in turn has made controversial statements or undertaken controversial actions. Zoabi, for example, assisted the 2010 Gaza flotilla in defying Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza, and just last week, Ghattas slammed the ailing Shimon Peres, accusing him of “wallowing in Arab blood. Peres was one of the pioneers of the Zionist enterprise – especially of its colonialist settlement policies. He was one of the most cruel to the Palestinians, and one of the most damaging,” Ghattas wrote.
According to police, the scheme involved raising money for the party from undocumented sources in Israel and abroad. The money was deposited into numerous bank accounts associated with some of the detainees, with false documentation and paperwork designed to avoid regulations and laws. “The scheme was designed to raise millions of shekels for the party and avoid regulatory authorities, both in Israel and abroad. The money was reported, when such reporting took place, as coming from individual donors” who had never donated money to the party.
As far as the party is concerned, the entire investigation – which attorneys for the party said had been going on for two years – is one of many politically motivated attacks aimed at getting the party out of the Knesset. “We strongly condemn the arrest of our colleagues,” the party said in a statement. “This is a dangerous uptick of the political persecution the Arab minority and our party face. We conduct all our activities within the confines of the law. Reports about illicit activities associated with Balad are false.”
An attorney for the party told Channel Ten that the issue has come up before, and that nothing has come of it. “We expect the same result this time, lots of talk but in the end no action,” the attorney said.