Hanegbi pleads not guilty as trial opens

MK "saw nothing wrong" with Likud appointments, lawyer says.

By DAN IZENBERG
October 17, 2006 09:15
3 minute read.
tzahi hanegbi 298.88

tzahi hanegbi 298.88. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)

MK Tzahi Hanegbi on Tuesday pleaded not guilty to all the charges included in the state's indictment against him for allegedly having made dozens of political appointments during his term as minister of the environment in the years 2001-2003. Hanegbi's plea came during the opening hearing of his trial in Jerusalem Magistrate's Court. He faces charges of fraud, breach of trust, election bribery, providing false testimony and lying under oath. The indictment gave the names of 69 people belonging to the Likud Central Committee - or relatives of members - who were given jobs in the ministry or organizations connected to it. "Hanegbi was in favor of Likud members submitting their candidacies for jobs in the public service," his lawyer, Ya'acov Weinroth, wrote in a formal, nine-page response to the indictment. "Hanegbi believes that there is nothing wrong with this as long as the professional body for making appointments in the Ministry of Environment applies professional considerations regarding the qualifications of each candidate." Weinroth added that Hanegbi's office received many curricula vitae from people seeking jobs and it was only natural that many of them would come from Likud Party members. However, "in the absolute majority of the cases, Hanegbi was not involved in the process of examining the candidates or absorbing them in the office," wrote Weinroth. "In the few cases in which Hanegbi was personally involved in picking out or presenting a candidate… he made certain the candidate had obvious and indisputable qualifications." Weinroth argued that, during Hanegbi's term, the ministry hired more than 200 employees. Of 34 workers who were appointed temporarily to positions requiring a tender, six had been referred by Hanegbi's office. Of 63 appointed by manpower companies, 11 were referred by Hanegbi's office. Of 30 workers appointed to positions that did not require a tender, 14 were referred by Hanegbi's office. Of 70-80 project managers chosen in public tenders, two were referred by the minister's office. Weinroth seemed to imply that only a small portion of the workers hired by the ministry during Hanegbi's term were referred by his office. Weinroth added that he intended to add one more column to the table contained in the indictment, which included the names of 69 employees, the period of employment of each, their job and each one's link to the Likud or Hanegbi personally. Weinroth told the court the column would describe the professional skills of each employee. "That will change the whole picture," he said. Weinroth also denied the second charge against Hanegbi, which claimed that on about November 23, 2002, just prior to the Likud Central Committee primaries to choose the party list for the 16th Knesset, Hanegbi wrote and published an ad boasting that he had made the largest number of political appointments of any Likud minister in the outgoing government. When the Movement for Quality Government complained to the Central Elections Committee, Hanegbi allegedly submitted a false affidavit in response saying that he was in no way connected to the writing of the ad. He repeated the claim during a hearing before the committee after swearing to tell the truth. Weinroth wrote in response to the indictment that Hanegbi did not lie in the affidavit or testimony, "and, at any rate, he did not mean to mislead or falsify." He said that the ad in question had been a story initiated by a reporter for the magazine and that he had been interviewed for it. The trial is to resume in March to give the defense time to review all the evidence compiled by the prosecution during the two-year investigation. Hanegbi's close aide, Shmuel Hershkowitz, is on trial with him for alleged involvement in the political appointments.


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