The Rishon Lezion Magistrate’s Court on Monday convicted Likud MK and former minister Haim Katz on a minor fraud charge as part of a plea bargain.
Following that conviction, both the prosecution and the defense requested that the court endorse their recommendation that a suspended sentence (with no actual jail time) and a fine be his punishment.
During the hearing, Katz appealed personally to the court to weigh his decades of public service, as well as the current public service of his children, as signs of his broadly positive intent and contributions.
Katz did not try to withdraw his admission to the minor fraud charge, but he did seek to frame his error as more of an oversight during a positive career in which he simply did not pay enough attention to the single fraud-reporting issue.
The court set February 7 for rendering its decision on his sentence.
Courts tend to accept the sentences recommended in plea deals, but they are technically not bound by them and can “go rogue,” deciding on a stiffer or lighter punishment.
The High Court of Justice on Sunday night rejected a petition by the Movement for the Quality of Government in Israel to impose a finding of moral turpitude, which would have ended Katz’s political career.
On November 9, Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit filed an indictment against Katz.
Part of the deal includes Katz waiving his parliamentary immunity and an agreement by the sides to seek a sentence including a fine and a suspended prison sentence, but without actually serving any jail time.
The final charge in the deal was a conspiracy to achieve a goal that in and of itself was legal, but by illegal means, relating to Katz’s abuse of his power as former Knesset Social Welfare Committee chairman.
Katz also still serves as a key power broker within the Likud, with a heavy role in deciding when Likud primaries occur.
The Movement for the Quality of Government in Israel slammed Mandelblit, saying he had lost his nerve in cutting the lenient deal with Katz. The NGO cited Mandelblit’s own prior statements about how serious Katz’s conduct had been as ammunition for its arguments that the minor charge was insufficient and would essentially embolden other corrupt politicians to think fraud was worth it because there will be few consequences even if they are caught.
IN OCTOBER 2020, Mandelblit said he was leaning toward indicting the senior Likud MK for NIS 2.2 million in tax fraud.
In February 2020, under a prior government, the Knesset voted to grant Katz immunity from a prior indictment that Mandelblit had decided to file.
If no deal was reached, Mandelblit had also told the court he might try once again to remove Katz’s immunity regarding the prior indictment with the new Knesset, as well as to indict him under the new tax-fraud charges.
According to a previous Justice Ministry statement, Katz earned significant rental income from seven real-estate properties in his name and in the name of certain family members from 2007-2018.
For some of the properties, Katz had failed to report his rental income entirely to the tax authorities; with others, he had only partially reported and did so significantly late, the statement said.
Previously, lawyer Navit Negev said the charges were administrative and not criminal, and the only reason the allegations had been pushed into the criminal sphere was because of Katz’s political status.
The allegations would be rebutted as well as the pre-indictment hearing, she said, adding that even the ministry’s statement had recognized some of the properties were not in Katz’s name.
In August 2019, Mandelblit announced he would file the earlier and even more serious indictment against Katz for fraud and breach of trust.
According to that indictment, Katz had violated conflict-of-interest principles in his economic dealings with Equital Ltd.’s Motti Ben Ari on several occasions and covered it up to obtain illegal economic gains for the two of them. This narrative was highlighted in the amended indictment filed as part of the plea deal.
Katz loudly supported a 2010 reform to the country’s insolvency laws that was allegedly specifically targeted to help Ben Ari and his company, in which Katz himself also had heavy investments.
This would mean that Katz helped advance legislation to personally benefit himself along with his primary financial adviser and close friend.
Mandelblit’s August 2019 decision had already cleared Katz of charges in a third affair, the Israel Aerospace Industries case, in which the police had recommended he be indicted.