tzahi hanegbi 298.88.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Minister-without-Portfolio Tzahi Hanegbi could be charged with crimes carrying sentences of several years in prison following Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz's decision on Thursday to file an indictment against the minister. The indictment is conditional on the outcome of a hearing, and is based on charges that Hanegbi made dozens of improper political appointments while serving as Minister of the Environment.
Mazuz said Hanegbi would be charged with fraud and breach of faith, election bribery, perjury, and making a false oath. The most serious of the charges, perjury, calls for a maximum prison sentence of seven to nine years.
Hanegbi's lawyer, Ya'acov Weinroth, issued a statement saying he would attend the hearing and present Mazuz with all the arguments proving there was nothing criminal in Hanegbi's conduct when he served as Minister of the Environment. "From my deep knowledge of the evidence, I believe I can persuade the law enforcement authorities that he is innocent," Weinroth added.
Mazuz ordered police to investigate Hanegbi, who was then serving as Minister for Internal Security, on September 1, 2004, one week after State Comptroller Eliezer Goldberg published a scathing 80-page report on "political and improper appointments in the Ministry of the Environment" during Hanegbi's term in office between 2001 and 2003.
Goldberg found that wrote that "Hanegbi's actions brutally trampled the law and the rules of proper administration, politicized the public service and exploited public resources to advance his personal and political interests." It was Hanegbi himself who triggered the chain of events that have led to his near-certain indictment. During the Likud primaries for the slate of party candidates for the 16th Knesset, a newspaper distributed to the 3,000 Central Committee members who were to pick the slate, boasted that Hanegbi had found jobs in the Environment Ministry for 80 Central Committee members or their relatives.
The bravado, which Hanegbi claimed he had nothing to do with, caught the State Comptroller's eye and prompted him to investigate the "boast." As soon as Mazuz ordered the police to investigate the affair, Hanegbi, announced that he would suspend himself from his position as Minister of Internal Security until the police completed their investigation.
The Movement for Quality Government was dissatisfied with the announcement. It petitioned the High Court of Justice, charging that Hanegbi's alleged self-suspension was illegal because it caused a conflict of interests. The police investigators would be afraid to investigate him if they thought he might return to his post, because, if he did, they might be putting their chances for future job advancement at risk. The petitioner demanded that either Hanegbi be barred from serving as Minister for Internal Security for five years, or that some body other than the police conduct the investigation.
In an unusually close 4-3 decision, the court rejected the petition. But majority and minority opinion judges made it clear they believed Hanegbi should resign from the cabinet.
During the petition hearings, the state made it clear that Hanegbi had resigned from his portfolio and was no longer Minister for Internal Security. However, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon appointed him Minister-without-Portfolio and put him in charge of the intelligence services and Jerusalem affairs.
Mazuz said the decision to indict Hanegbi followed discussions he held with State Attorney Eran Shendar, Jerusalem District Attorney Eli Abarbanel, and the head of the police investigation team, Lt.-Cmdr. Yoav Siglovitz.
In the case of Aryeh Deri, the High Court has already handed down a judicial ruling that if a minister is served an indictment, he must resign from office. Should Mazuz stick to his decision to press charges after the hearing, it seems certain that Hanegbi will have to step down.
However he will still be able to run on the Kadima ticket for the 17th Knesset on March 28. Only if is he is indicted, convicted and found guilty of a crime involving moral turpitude, will he be forced to give up his Knesset seat and be barred from running again during the following seven years.