A document submitted to the senior civil service appointments committee regarding an alleged shoplifting incident in Hong Kong may dissipate the cloud currently hanging over Jacob Frenkel’s reappointment as governor of the Bank of Israel. However, if the information in the document − a letter written by Frenkel’s Hong Kong attorney, Sharon Ser, to Frenkel himself on July 12 − cannot be backed up by official documents or be proven by fact, Frenkel runs the risk of slipping from administrative issues into the criminal realm.
The incident, which occurred in 2006 at Hong Kong International Airport, was first reported by Haaretz two weeks ago. It was initially reported that Frenkel had allegedly begun to leave a duty-free store with a bottle of perfume. However, Channel 2 News reported Friday that the item was an expensive garment bag.
According to the Channel 2 report, Frenkel told the Turkel Committee that he was detained, seven years ago, while leaving a duty-free shop in Hong Kong’s airport in possession of a garment bag for which he had not paid.
Ser wrote in her letter to Frenkel, on her law firm’s stationery, that the incident in Hong Kong was a “nonevent and a misunderstanding.” She did not provide details of the incident, but confirmed that charges had been filed and that an investigation had ensued. She then noted that the complaint had been withdrawn, the case closed and no “active matter” had emerged from the incident.
Ser wrote Frenkel that she very much regretted the inconvenience caused him by the matter. She also informed him that the local authorities had apologized, and appreciated that Frenkel had not sought monetary compensation. She does not append to her letter any official document in this regard. She also told Frenkel she would assist him and the government of Israel if need be to obtain confirmation that the complaint had indeed been closed.
Frenkel claimed that a colleague traveling with him at the time was supposed to pay for the bag, as per an agreement between them. He credited the incident to a misunderstanding and asked to be released so as not to miss his flight. Ultimately he did not make the flight and had to remain in Hong Kong for an additional night.
It is now incumbent on Frenkel to show the Turkel Committee proof of the statements presented by his attorney. The appointments committee could decide that, since no offense was committed, even if the statute of limitations did not apply seven years after the incident, there is no reason for Israel Police to question him on the matter.
However, if Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein were to reach the conclusion that, in June-July 2013, Frenkel acted improperly to obtain the post of Bank of Israel governor, he would have to order the police to investigate the matter.
Finance Minister Yair Lapid, who was interviewed on Channel 2, was furious over the criticism leveled at Frenkel. “We don’t believe people by default,” Lapid said. “The man is 70 years old, a winner of the Israel Prize, who gave up his high-paying job to come serve at his advanced age. But we don’t give him the benefit of the doubt. There is something ugly and violent about the public’s tone. It’s sad.”
Asked whether he will try to find a different candidate in the next few days, Lapid responded: “I won’t say that because of gossip we’re asking him to decline the job. The Turkel Committee will decide.
“Any honorable, caring person would be devastated” over what has happened to Frenkel, Lapid added.