(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
The Tel Aviv District Court on Monday found former finance minister Avraham Hirchson guilty of stealing up to NIS 2.3 million from the National Federation of Workers (NFW) and Nili, a non-profit organization owned by the NFW.
The court convicted him on four of six charges in the first section of the indictment, and both of the charges in the second.
In the first section, Hirchson was found guilty of receiving checks in his account and cash delivered to his home to the tune of as much as NIS 1.2 million, NIS 160,000 in holiday bonuses, up to NIS 750,000 in travel allowances and NIS 72,000 in medicines, all paid for by the NFW or Nili.
For these actions, he was convicted of theft by a director (liable to seven years in prison), deceit and breach of trust in a corporate body (liable to three years in prison), and prohibited money-laundering and false entry in documents of a corporate body (liable to five years in prison).
In the second section of the indictment, Hirchson was convicted of submitting receipts and receiving payment from the NFW for meals in restaurants and in the Knesset, which he falsely claimed were business meetings involving union affairs. He was convicted on two counts of obtaining something by deceit in aggravated circumstances, a crime carrying a punishment of up to five years in jail.
The decision was handed down by Judge Bracha Ofir-Tom, who ordered the hearing on sentencing pleas to be held in 10 days.
Hirchson and his lawyer, Ya'acov Weinroth, left the courthouse immediately after the decision, without speaking to reporters.
Later, however, Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz and State Attorney Moshe Lador issued a joint statement saying they welcomed the decision, "which accepted the prosecution's position while establishing worthy public and legal norms regarding personal responsibility and the safeguarding of ethical rules by people in public office."
They added that this case was another example of the law enforcement agencies' enforcement of the law against public corruption on the part of senior officials, "without fear or favor."
Early on in her 182-page decision, Ofir-Tom rejected Hirchson's claim that as chairman of the NFW, he was unaware of the corruption that was taking place among the senior executives because he was only interested in the larger issues and left the day-to-day affairs of the union to his subordinates.
"This argument has no leg to stand on regarding the responsibility of the person who served as chairman of the executive committee throughout the period," Ofir-Tom wrote. "The responsibilities of the director of a corporation to the corporation and in general, all the more so for the head of it, have been discussed in many court rulings that have made it absolutely clear that he is obliged to make certain, above all, that there are appropriate rules of conduct and honesty regarding himself and his employees."
The most serious charge was the one stating that Hirchson had received up to NIS 1.2 million in monthly payments of NIS 25,000-NIS 30,000, either in bank deposits or envelops containing cash that were delivered to his home. This sum amounted to half the entire amount of money that Hirchson was found guilty of stealing from the NFW and Nili.
The judge pointed out that Hirchson had changed his version of what happened three different times. In his interrogation by police, the former finance minister denied the allegation outright, saying he had received sums of money from a son, a businessman, and from his sister-in-law.
In his testimony in court, Hirchson admitted he had lied. The money, he now said, was paid by the union for compensation and pension after he officially resigned from office, although he continued to serve as chairman without pay - or so he claimed.
Weinroth told the court that although Hirchson had already received NIS 610,000 in compensation when he officially stepped down, he had much more coming to him.
In his summation arguments in court and in writing, Weinroth switched course again and claimed that the money was Hirchson's salary for his continued years of work after he resigned and continued to work - allegedly for free. Weinroth said the payment had been given to him under the table because according to the Knesset rules, Hirchson was not allowed to earn money beyond his parliamentary salary. The fact that he was paid was not a criminal offense but constituted ethical misconduct and therefore he could not be convicted of stealing, said Weinroth.
Ofir-Tom rejected these arguments, as she did those regarding the other charges for which Hirchson was convicted.
"The defendant's fundamental failure in building his defense stemmed from the fact that he could not provide a single, alternative, "innocent" explanation of his actions that might have disproved the logical conclusion that seemed obvious according to the incriminatory evidence presented by the prosecution. In other words, the [defense's] main problem was the plethora of versions and the changes made in them time and again."
The judge also wrote that she did not believe Hirchson genuinely regretted his behavior. He said he was sorry for the way he had received the money - not the fact that he had received it, she wrote.â€¢