Police overnight Tuesday made an additional 13 arrests in the growing scandal surrounding the Balad party. There are now 23 suspects in custody, all allegedly part of a huge money-laundering scheme allegedly run by Balad officials. The list of detainees include prominent members of Galilee Arab communities, including lawyers, accountants and local authority officials.
So far, police have not discussed what, if any, culpability the three Balad MKs – Jamal Zahalka, Basel Ghattas, or Hanin Zoabi – have in the matter. Balad is now part of the United Arab List, one of the three parties that make up the joint list. Even more arrests are expected, police said.
Police raided the offices of the party in several cities early Sunday, seizing documents, computers, and other evidence. 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.
The inquiry into Balad has actually been going on for some time, organized by the former Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein. What had started as an investigation into improprieties in one of the party’s local organizations grew over time to take on national, and even international, aspects, as some of the money the party allegedly laundered came from abroad.
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.