London "Telegraph", June 7, 1997
Israeli ambitions of 'Mafia boss'
Russian-Jew Seized Before Boarding Flight for America
By Anton La Guardia, in Jerusalem
An alleged boss of the Russian mafia, under arrest in Israel on charges of murder and fraud, is suspected of trying to buy political influence and even seeking to be appointed an Israeli government minister.
Grigory Lerner, a multi-millionaire businessman who took the Hebrew name of Tzi Ben-Ari, has been held for nearly a month. The charges include defrauding Russian banks of more than $75 million, organising the murder of a Russian banker and attempting to murder others, and falsifying his documents to obtain Israeli citizenship.
The Hebrew daily "Yediot Ahronot" reported yesterday that police had tapped phone conversations in which Lerner said he planned to run in the Likud Party's primaries, become an MP at the next elections and be appointed a cabinet minister. Lerner's arrest is bringing to light evidence that members of Russian criminal gangs are trying to obtain political influence. In 1995, police issued a warning that the Russian mafia was trying to infiltrate Israel's political system.
The police charges against Lerner are the most serious assault so far on Russian organised criminals, who are thought to use Israel as a base for laundering illegal funds. Lerner was known in Russian immigrant circles as a generous benefactor.
Natan Sharansky, the Trade Minister...admitted that he received about $85,000 from Lerner in 1994 for a charity helping Russian immigrants.
Lerner, 46, emigrated to Israel in 1989. Two years later he was arrested in Switzerland at the request of the Russian police and extradited to Moscow, where he was acquitted of charges of fraud. Russian newspapers said he served two years in jail on similar charges in 1982.
When arrested last month, just before boarding a flight for
America, Israeli police said Lerner had been carrying more than
$50,000 in cash and two satellite telephones. In a series of raids,
police seized about $400,000 in cash, an unlicensed rifle with
telescopic sight, two forged passports and computer equipment. On
Thursday, he was remanded in custody for a further five days.