Court forces Hanegbi to leave the Knesset

Judges rule that Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee chairman's perjury involved moral turpitude.

November 9, 2010 11:01
3 minute read.
Kadima MK Tzahi Hanegbi in court, Nov. 9.

hanegbi at court_311. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)

Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee chairman Tzahi Hanegbi (Kadima) took leave of parliament on Tuesday after the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court ruled that the act of perjury of which he had been convicted involved moral turpitude.

According to the Basic Law: Knesset, an MK convicted of a crime involving moral turpitude must immediately suspend himself from membership in the Knesset until and unless the ruling is overturned in an appeal before a higher court.

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On July 13, Hanegbi was acquitted of charges that he had committed fraud, breach of trust and election bribery and had tried to influence voters. However, he was convicted of charges that he had given false testimony and committed perjury before a quasi-judicial hearing headed by the chairman of the Central Elections Committee, then-Supreme Court justice Mishael Cheshin, in 2002.

In the plea for sentencing, the prosecution asked the court to determine that the crimes for which Hanegbi had been convicted involved moral turpitude, and also that it give him a suspended jail sentence and a fine. Hanegbi’s defense lawyers asked the court not to rule that the crime involved moral turpitude and to sentence him to a fine and a period of public service.

Earlier Tuesday, the court handed down its sentence. Judges Aryeh Romanov and Oded Shaham ruled that the crime committed by Hanegbi involved moral turpitude.

However, they did not sentence him to an active or suspended prison sentence.

In the minority vote, presiding judge Yoel Tsur ruled that Hanegbi’s crime did not involve moral turpitude.

The court unanimously agreed to fine Hanegbi NIS 10,000.

The court’s decision not to give Hanegbi a suspended sentence means that he would be able to serve in the cabinet.

According to the Basic Law: Government, had Hanegbi been given any kind of jail sentence – even a suspended one – he would have been barred from serving in a cabinet post for seven years.

The outcome of the sentencing was that Hanegbi was suspended from service in the current Knesset.

“This morning, by nature, is a painful and difficult one,” Hanegbi told reporters outside the courtroom after the decision was issued.

“For eight straight years, I carried on a legal struggle in the belief that the outcome would be balanced and favorable... But the court ruled this morning as it did. The decision is to be honored, and I honor it.”

Hanegbi’s lawyer, Gershon Guntovnik, told reporters that the defense did not intend to appeal the conviction and sentencing, but would do so if the state decided to appeal.

The state has already announced that it intends to appeal the court decision to acquit Hanegbi on the first charge, which had to do with an article that appeared in a Likud Party magazine two days before the Likud central committee elected the party’s slate of candidates.

The article boasted that Hanegbi had appointed dozens of central committee members and their relatives to jobs in the Environment Ministry when he served as its minister. It went on to say that if given a larger ministry to head after the election, he would be able to make more appointments.

During his address to reporters after the trial, Hanegbi recommended that Kadima MK Shaul Mofaz replace him as chairman of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.

“He is a member of the committee and is aware of the responsibility that it bears,” said Hanegbi. “It is important to choose a permanent committee head quickly, today, tomorrow.”

He also said that he would use his good relations with both Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and opposition leader Tzippi Livni to overcome the political and personal differences standing in the way of a national unity government.

“It is the top priority to formulate a broad national, parliamentary consensus on the core issues. I believe such a consensus exists among the public,” he said.

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