Intelligence Services Minister Dan Meridor is facing a disciplinary hearing before the Israel Bar Association's ethics committee, over an alleged agreement he had with Russian billionaire Arkadi Gaydamak, whereby Gaydamak would pay Meridor a huge bonus if charges he was facing got thrown out in a pretrial hearing.
The Tel Aviv branch of the bar association announced the disciplinary move earlier this week.
According to government watchdog organization Ometz, Meridor agreed to represent Gaydamak in the May 2008 hearing for a fee of $600,000, but conditioned his work on a $5 million bonus if the case was successfully dismissed.
According to Ometz, such an agreement is contrary to the law, which states that a lawyer cannot condition his fee on the outcome of a criminal trial.
Gaydamak was eventually charged with fraud and money laundering, so the second part of the deal was never actualized.
The bar association ethics committee decided by a vote of 7-5 to call Meridor up on charges of ethical misconduct. The committee has summoned attorney Ilan Shavit from the law firm Haim Zadok and Co., who allegedly drew up the agreement and printed it on the firm's letterhead.
Meridor and Shavit are trying to have the disciplinary hearing canceled, arguing that the agreement was never signed and that regardless, a pretrial hearing is not a criminal trial and therefore no law was broken.
"I think this complaint has no substance, neither factually or legally. The complaint is frivolous and we will act to convince the members of the disciplinary hearing of that," said Meridor's lawyer, Zvi Agmon.
In a letter to the ethics committee Agmon wrote, "The practice, which is common among many lawyers in Tel Aviv and outside of it, is to charge a substantial addition to the representation fees when hearings turn out well. It is a widely accepted practice that has been around for years on the understanding that it was legal and kosher."
Shavit told Army Radio on Wednesday that the complaints were initiated by Meridor's political opponents.
"To my sorrow, nobody bothered to check the factual evidence. There was no agreement signed between us and Gaydamak," he said.
Former head of the Tel Aviv Bar Association ethics committee, attorney Ilan Bombach, criticized the committee's decision. He said that while a pretrial hearing is part of the criminal procedure, in this case there is no justification for a disciplinary hearing.
"We at the ethics committee always thought of ourselves as guard dogs, not attack dogs. Our goal is to educate and to deter. It looks like in this case they punished before they gave warning," said Bombach.