Hanegbi pleads for his political life ahead of sentencing

Prosecutors urge court to disregard letters from PM, DM, and send him to jail; in appeal to judges, Foreign Affairs and Defense panel chairman acknowledges his ‘mistakes.’

By
September 17, 2010 04:32
4 minute read.
MK TZAHI Hanegbi speaks at a press conference yest

hanegbi 311. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)

 
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MK Tzahi Hanegbi (Kadima) pleaded for his political life on Thursday, asking the Jerusalem District Court to reject a request by the state prosecution to rule that the conduct that led to his perjury conviction on July 13 constituted moral turpitude.

Should the court find him guilty of moral turpitude, Hanegbi, who is chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee and a key player in the Kadima party, would have to immediately leave the Knesset, although he could return if he successfully appealed the court’s decision.

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If he is found guilty of moral turpitude and sentenced to three months or more in prison for the perjury conviction, he would be barred from public office for seven years.

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If he gets no jail time, or less than three months, he could run for the next Knesset, even if he is found guilty of moral turpitude.

But if the court rules that there was no moral turpitude in Hanegbi’s conviction, he could help bring Kadima into the coalition and eventually challenge Tzipi Livni for the party’s leadership. Hanegbi negotiated a deal to bring Kadima into the coalition before the current government was formed, but Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu decided to include Labor instead.

Even if the court ruled that there was no moral turpitude, the prosecution could still appeal Hanegbi’s exoneration on other charges so he still would not be out of legal trouble.

“I conduct public campaigns. During 30 years I have made mistakes,” Hanegbi said during his statement to the court.

“The last seven years have been difficult.



The longer you don’t see the end, the harder things get.”

In 2002, then-environmental protection minister Hanegbi, who was a Likud MK at the time, published a party flyer that contained the names of dozens of party members who had been appointed to positions in his ministry.

The flyer, published shortly before a Likud primary, raised suspicions that the appointments were improper, and in 2004, then-state comptroller Eliezer Goldberg ruled that the appointments were politically motivated.

When Hanegbi was asked by the Central Elections Committee whether he had authored the flyer, he denied any link to its publication. In July, the Jerusalem District Court found Hanegbi guilty of providing false testimony to the committee, but cleared him of bribery charges.

The court must deliver its verdict soon, and prosecutors are asking that Hanegbi be ejected from the Knesset and receive a suspended prison sentence.

“The hardest part is... that even if you feel that your innocence will prevail, the people dearest to you pay the price, and the effect this has on them is very painful,” Hanegbi told the court on Thursday.

The Jerusalem District Court has in recent days received letters pleading Hanegbi’s case from Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and other senior public officials, asking the judges not to convict him of moral turpitude.

But prosecutors on Thursday asked the court to disregard the letters, adding that Hanegbi’s actions clearly constituted moral turpitude.

“The court cannot make a ruling on moral turpitude based on public support in one party or another,” prosecutor Erez Padan told the court. “Moral turpitude is a legal determination, and testimonies of good deeds by the accused are irrelevant to moral turpitude.”

Barak, a political rival of Hanegbi’s, said in his letter to the court, “Since 2007, when I returned to serve as defense minister, I have worked shoulder to shoulder with MK Hanegbi... on a very wide variety of sensitive and important issues. The scope of his experience, his bipartisan perspective, his great success in his position, and the discretion that characterize him formed... the basis of my willingness – in consultation with the prime minister – to retain him as the head of this important [Foreign Affairs and Defense] committee, despite the fact that he is an opposition member.”

National Union MK Arye Eldad criticized Hanegbi for using his position as chairman of Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee to prevent deliberations on key issues. He accused Hanegbi of pandering to Netanyahu and Barak for their support in his legal case.


Earlier this week, the Movement for Quality Government slammed “public lobbying” by prominent figures in favor of Hanegbi, labeling it as “inappropriate, degrading and embarrassing.”

On Wednesday, the movement stepped up its campaign, threatening to go to the Supreme Court if Hanegbi is let off.

Gil Hoffman and Rebecca Anna Stoil contributed to this report.

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