LONDON, Feb. 9 (JTA) — A leading Jewish fund-raiser in Britain has been linked to the campaign finance scandal plaguing Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak.
At the same time, a charitable foundation in Canada has also been named as being among the foreign-based groups that helped Barak’s election campaign last year.
The scandal erupted late last month, when Israel’s state comptroller issued a report that Barak’s party — as well as several other parties, though to a lesser degree — were guilty of illegal campaign funding practices.
According to the comptroller’s report, which prompted Israel’s attorney general to order a criminal investigation, Barak’s One Israel bloc set up nonprofit organizations to funnel donations for his campaign against Likud incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Among the alleged violations of these organizations was channeling money from abroad — a violation of Israel’s campaign-finance laws.
Barak has claimed that he knew nothing about the intricate network of charitable foundations that were set up by his campaign aides and through which funds were funneled for the election campaign.
This week, the London Sunday Times cited a confidential report by the New York detective agency Kroll Associates alleging that Lord Michael Levy, who bankrolled the election of British Prime Minister Tony Blair, had donated a “considerable” amount of funds for Barak and other top One Israel politicians.
According to the Kroll report, other senior Israeli ministers who benefitted from Levy’s largesse included Justice Minister Yossi Beilin, Deputy Defense Minister Efraim Sneh and former prime ministers Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin.
The Sunday Times pointed out that there is no suggestion that Levy is guilty of wrongdoing.
Just the same, he risks being drawn into Israel’s ongoing criminal probe.
The Kroll report is believed to have been commissioned by a Middle East client, apparently the Bahrain-based investment bank Investcorp, which may have been considering Levy for a consultancy role.
The report noted that the 56-year-old Levy — known as “The Cashpoint” in Israeli political circles — raised considerable sums first for Rabin and Peres, then for Barak. Some of the donors to the Israeli and British Labor parties are said to overlap.
Levy visited Israel last week for what a British Foreign Office official described as a “private business visit.”
He then traveled on to Damascus and Beirut to deliver personal messages from Blair.
The official insisted that Levy did not meet political leaders while he was in Israel, adding that the essence of the messages he carried to Syria and Lebanon was that Blair considered Barak to be sincere in his quest for peace.
Levy, who has been used as a conduit to Syrian President Hafez Assad in the past, is deeply mistrusted by large sections of the British political establishment and has been the subject of questions by legislators.
They demanded to know why Levy — an unelected, untrained friend of Blair — rather than a senior, trained Foreign Office diplomat had been used as a channel for private messages.
Levy is estimated to have raised some $60 million for Blair, much of it from Jewish donors and much of it channeled through a blind trust to shield the identity of the donors and protect Blair from scandal.
With his open-door access to Blair, Levy now wears the mantle of Jewish community leader in the political arena, reducing the voice of his longtime predecessor, Sir Trevor Chinn, who was knighted by former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, to a mere whisper in the corridors of power.
Levy made his personal fortune propelling pop acts — such as Alvin Stardust, Chris Rea, Darts and Bad Manners — to stardom. He is now renowned for his flashy gold signet rings, his Bentley and his bouffant hairdo.
Immediately after Blair’s 1997 election victory, he was elevated to the House of Lords, where he is known to be deeply unpopular.
Foreign Secretary Robin Cook is believed to have strenuously resisted attempts by Blair to appoint Levy to a junior ministerial post at the Foreign Office.
Meanwhile, a Canadian-based foundation has also been linked to the Barak campaign’s fund-raising scandal.
Israel’s state comptroller found that two checks totaling some $15,000 were used by the Barak campaign from funds donated by the Alberta-based Kahanoff Foundation.
Earlier this month, the foundation issued a statement to clear its name.
Active in Canada and Israel for two decades, the foundation said it was “disturbed” that donations it “made to support community programs in Israel were apparently used to support political activities.”
In an interview with the Jerusalem Post this week, foundation President James Hume said his group does not “do political funding,” adding that it is against Canadian law to do so.
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