Israeli lawmakers fingered in scam

Sign up for Weekday J and get the latest on what's happening in the Jewish Bay Area.

JERUSALEM — Israeli police are probing possible corruption in the sale of subsidized apartments at a Jerusalem housing project.

The claims, raised in an Israel Television report this week, alleged that up to 40 percent of the Shuafat Ridge housing project, which had been built for needy ultra-religious families, was sold at subsidized prices to people who were not eligible to receive assistance.

Those who benefited included friends and relatives of the religious parties and organizations that marketed the project, the report said.

Labor and Social Welfare Minister Eli Yishai of the Shas Party; Yehuda Levinger, head of the National Religious Party's Jerusalem branch; and relatives of Deputy Housing Minister Meir Porush of United Torah Judaism were implicated in the report.

The project in northern Jerusalem was begun under the tenure of Ariel Sharon as housing minister in the late 1980s with the view to alleviate the housing problems of ultra-religious families. Most of the construction and marketing was conducted between 1992-1996, when Binyamin Ben Eliezer served as housing minister under the Labor government.

Those allegedly involved in a scam denied any wrongdoing.

Yishai, who was reported to have purchased a four-room apartment for $110,000 and sold it last year for $210,000 without ever having lived in it, said he was told that people ineligible for assistance could also purchase houses.

The Housing Ministry spokesman said additional housing was built that could be sold at nonsubsidized prices, and that no eligible families had lost out because apartments were purchased by others.

Meretz leader Yossi Sarid said the TV report hinted at a "massive corruption" scandal. He also said he planned to lodge a criminal complaint on the matter.