(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The Justice Ministry has reformulated an article in the Penal Law to facilitate the fight against government corruption, the ministry spokesman announced last week.
The article in question redefines the criminal act of fraud and breach of faith and also makes the punishment for committing the crime more severe.
Until now, it has been very difficult to use the prohibition in indictments or to convince the court that a defendant has violated it because of the vagueness of the wording of the article.
The problem reached its climax in the indictment against Shimon Sheves, former director-general of the Prime Minister's Bureau under Yitzhak Rabin. Sheves was originally charged with receiving bribes, fraud and breach of faith and other crimes. He was accused of intervening on behalf of two personal friends, Doron and Gil Shuldenfrei, for whom he had worked before entering government and for whom he expected to return to work afterwards.
He was also charged with putting pressure on government officials to approve a state visit of a foreign leader seeking recognition by the international community. The visit was part of the leader's terms for agreeing to a $10m. arms deal with Moshe Stern, a friend of Sheves's.
Stern, for his part, was investing Sheves's money in the stock market and paying out of his own pocket for losses incurred by Sheves.
Sheves was convicted by Tel Aviv District Court of the charges involving Stern and acquitted on the charges involving the Shuldenfreis. However, the conviction was overturned during an appeal to the Supreme Court, because the justices disagreed on the interpretation of the law.
The state decided to ask for a second hearing because it wanted the court to give a final and authoritative definition. This time, an expanded panel of nine justices convicted Sheves of fraud and breach of faith regarding both affairs.
In his ruling, Barak wrote that breach of faith is "an act that causes substantial injury to public confidence in civil servants, their honesty or the way they do their jobs." In the draft of the new bill, the state has gone farther in seeking to concretize the crime by establishing four specific circumstances which constitute fraud and breach of faith. These include:
â€¢ An act by a public servant in the fulfillment of his duty or the use of his position in a situation of conflict of interests which is meant to improve the public servant's personal circumstances.
â€¢ Receiving a benefit by a public servant, or by his relative, which has been given for no other reason than that he is a public servant, unless the benefit is permitted by law.
â€¢ Using inside information obtained by the public servant in the context of his position or in the carrying out of his duties, including transferring the information to someone else, in order to improve the public servant's personal circumstances.
â€¢ Providing false information in connection with the public servant's work, or exploiting his position vis a vis another public servant, or presenting a false report to a public servant including concealing of information that he was obliged to reveal, in circumstances where any of these acts are meant to impact on the decisions of the other public servant in performing his duties.
There is also a fifth term, which is formulated in general terms.
However, the prosecution may only charge a suspect according to this term with the approval of the attorney-general.
The proposal, in the form of a memorandum, has been circulated among the cabinet ministers and outside experts for their comments before drafting the actual legislation.