The Jerusalem District Court is due to determine the political fate of one of the most prominent politicians in the country on Tuesday when it announces its sentence in the trial of Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee Chairman Tzahi Hanegbi (Kadima).
Hanegbi was convicted on July 13 of perjury and making a false oath during a hearing before the head of the Central Elections Committee, Michael Heshin, on December 10, 2002.
Hanegbi pleads for his political life ahead of sentencing
Analysis: Hankering for Hanegbi
The charges for which he was convicted were actually a side issue in the trial. Hanegbi was charged foremost with fraud and breach of trust, election bribery and trying to influence a voter. He was accused of masterminding an ad in a Likud magazine in which he boasted that he had appointed dozens of central committee members to jobs in the Environment Ministry, which he headed, and that he would make many more if he did well in the primaries and was appointed to a more powerful portfolio after the next election.
Hanegbi was acquitted of this charge, but only because one of the three judges, Aryeh Romanov, accepted his lawyers’ arguments that he should not be convicted on the grounds of “defense based on justice.” According to this argument, no one had ever before been found criminally guilty for making political appointments, and it was unfair to begin a new policy without first giving warning of the change.
Romanov wrote that he was convinced Hanegbi had committed the crimes pertaining to the political appointments and was therefore guilty of the charges. Nevertheless, he and presiding judge Yoel Tsur voted to acquit Hanegbi because of the “defense based on justice” argument. Judge Oded Shaham cast the minority vote.
After the State Comptroller’s Report was published, the Movement for Quality Government filed a complaint against Hanegbi with the Central Elections Committee, accusing him of buying votes.
The chairman, Heshin, held a hearing during which Hanegbi denied having anything to do with the publication of the article and insisted that it was a news report written by someone else. Shaham and Romanov ruled that Hanegbi was lying and convicted him of perjury.
If the court accedes to the state’s request, Hanegbi will immediately be suspended from his service in the Knesset.
However, he will still have the right to appeal against such a decision to the district court, and in the event that that goes against him, he could ask the Supreme Court for permission to appeal against the district court decision.
Theoretically, the court could also sentence Hanegbi to up to seven years in jail. However, the state has made it clear it is asking for a suspended sentence and a fine. The real punishment would be a moral turpitude ruling by the court, as this would prohibit him from being involved in politics for a long time to come.
During a court hearing on September 16 to plead his case before sentencing, Hanegbi’s lawyers, Ya’acov Weinroth, Gershon Guntovnik and Oded Gazit, explained why they believed their client’s crime did not involve moral turpitude.
Their arguments included the following: • Hanegbi’s criminal investigation and trial were sparked by a state comptroller’s report that uncovered the political appointments. In the end, the court acquitted him of criminal deeds on this matter. The perjury charge was just an addendum to the indictment.
Furthermore, it was the state’s declared policy not to press charges for that crime.
• The facts as presented in the court’s verdict placed Hanegbi’s act on the lower end of the perjury threshold.
Hanegbi had not initiated the hearing before the Central Elections Committee, he agreed to the demands made by the Movement for Quality Government, Heshin himself took it for granted that Hanegbi had seen the article before it was published, and therefore Hanegbi’s denial did not affect Heshin’s decision. Furthermore, Hanegbi had not lied, but been “evasive,” and only because he wanted to defend himself against the charge of election bribery.
• Eight years have passed since the crime was committed.
During those years, Hanegbi has paid a heavy price, since he had to give up his portfolio as minister of public security during the investigation and, after his indictment, could not hold any cabinet post.
In a hard-hitting rebuttal to the court, however, the state strongly rejected Hanegbi’s arguments. For example, it pointed out that the defendant had asked the court to reject the Movement for Quality Government’s complaint outright, without a hearing. It was Heshin who forced him to answer the questions of the group’s attorney Barak Calev.
The state also rejected Hanegbi’s attempt to diminish the importance of the perjury conviction.
“We are dealing here with perjury, a crime which the legislator took very seriously,” the state said. “The [maximum] punishment is seven years in jail. We don’t have to waste too many words to describe the gravity of the crime. There is no need to go to great lengths to explain the importance of the purity of the judicial procedure and the damage that can be done to the court’s ability to carry out justice.”
The court will not have an easy time determining whether Hanegbi’s crime
involved moral turpitude, because there is no law that defines it, and
even case law does not provide clear guidelines for determining what it
is. Court rulings have determined that each case that comes before it
must be determined on its own merits and that no general rule applies.
In one case, the court wrote that “the essence of the rule is that the
term ‘a crime involving moral turpitude’ is a vague term and that the
standard for determining whether it exists is the moral standard. In
supporting society’s idea of morality, the court has determined from
time to time that whether a crime involves moral turpitude will be
determined by two tests: one is the circumstances in which the crime was
committed... The second test is that in each individual case, one must
study the purpose of the law which talks about a ‘crime involving moral
turpitude,’ and it is the purpose of the law which will influence the
degree to which it constitutes moral turpitude.”