Three Likud members indicted for vote fraud

JERUSALEM — Three Likud activists were indicted Monday for vote-buying and threatening candidates at at an internal party election in which Knesset candidates were chosen.

The indictments were the first in the large-scale investigation that police launched after the Dec. 7 Likud Central Election Committee vote, when some contenders complained that committee members had demanded money in return for their votes.

Police have submitted several files to state prosecutors, including one involving the actions of former Deputy Infrastructure Minister Naomi Blumenthal, who is accused of putting up party activists at a hotel the night before the vote.

The three defendants indicted on Monday were Haim Na'im, Ya'acov Baranes and Rivka Cohen.

According to the indictment, Na'im is a member of the Likud Central Committee, Baranes is the deputy chairman of the Netanya Religious Council and Cohen is head of the neighborhood committee of Kfar Shalem, in Tel Aviv. She is also a supporter of Eitan Sulami, who ran and lost against former Cabinet secretary Gideon Sa'ar for the 19th position on the Knesset slate as representative of the Tel Aviv District.

According to the charge sheet against Na'im, which was submitted to Ramleh Magistrates Court, the defendant approached contender Akiva Nof on Nov. 21, 2002 and said to him:

"I have 45 ironclad votes. Eleven of them are family members. I am ashamed of myself, but you know, that's the way it is. You will have to pay."

According to the indictment against Baranes, which was submitted to Netanya Magistrates Court, the defendant approached Nahman Shechter, a Likud Knesset candidate who vied against Omri Sharon as Likud representative from the south.

"Any primary candidate who wants our support will have to fund some of our office expenses, such as the telephone bill, to the tune of [$2,000] for the year," Baranes allegedly told Shechter.