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The testimony of Avraham Hirchson's youngest son, Ro'i, and the fact that the former finance minister has repaid most of the money he stole from the National Federation of Workers helped him on Wednesday to receive a lighter sentence than the prosecution had hoped for.
Tel Aviv District Court Judge Bracha Ophir-Tom sentenced Hirchson to five years and five months in prison and a fine of NIS 450,000 on charges of having stolen up to NIS 1,932,000 from the union and its subsidiary, Nili. It also increased the bail money that Hirchson has posted until now by NIS 400,000.
In her decision, Ophir-Tom wrote, "The message that must come out of the court in criminal circumstances involving public servants must be sharp and clear so that all will know that even a senior public official who takes advantage of his status and the confidence invested in him can expect condemnation and censure, along with substantial punishment that will not be any different from that of an ordinary criminal."
Hirchson was convicted of receiving as much as NIS 1.2 million in monthly payments of bank deposits or cash, as well as "bonuses" for travel expenses, holidays and medicines.
The state had asked the court to sentence him to seven years in prison, using former National Federation of Workers treasurer Ovadia Cohen, another member of the circle of senior union officials that stole a total of about NIS 10m., as the basis for determining Hirchson's sentence. Cohen, who took NIS 6m. for himself and his brother, who had accumulated gambling debts, was sentenced to 56 months in jail.
Since Hirchson was the head of the union and therefore the one most responsible for its well-being, he should be punished far more severely, the prosecution argued.
But Ophir-Tom said each of those involved in the thefts had to be judged on his own merits when it came to the sentencing.
Hirchson, she continued, had several points in his favor, above all the fact that he had taken care of his three sons after his wife died.
Last week, Hirchson's youngest son, Ro'i, told the court that Hirchson had been father and mother to his brothers and he after their mother died.
"In his favor is his conduct as a family man who gave support and assistance to his children after his wife's death. His devotion to her during her illness is beyond doubt."
Ophir-Tom also said that Hirchson was elderly (he is 69 years old) and suffered from heart disease.
On the other hand, the judge pointed out that he was not a poor man and had apparently stolen to support the "good life."
What made him do it, she asked. "Was it being drunk with power that changed his view of life or was it boundless greed which merged with the anarchic atmosphere that took control of the organization when no one was monitoring what was going on there?" she wrote.
After the sentence was read out, Hirchson's lawyer, Ya'acov Weinroth, asked the court to allow his client to stay out of jail until he appealed the decision to the Supreme Court. Ophir-Tom gave him until July 26.
Hirchson and Weinroth left the courtroom without talking to reporters.
State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss, whose office initiated the investigation of suspected wrong-doing in the union, wrote that "the court gave clear expression to the importance of the struggle against public corruption."