Analysis: Clamping down on public corruption

Two convictions of MKs in two days can't be a coincidence.

omri sharon 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
omri sharon 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Two harsh verdicts against two MKs in the space of two days cannot be just a coincidence. On Monday, Tel Aviv Magistrate's Court convicted Likud MK Naomi Blumenthal of most of the charges against her, including election bribery, obstruction of justice and subornation. One day later, the same court sentenced former Kadima MK Omri Sharon to the surprisingly harsh sentence of nine months in jail. Even the state prosecution had not counted on obtaining more than six months. Obviously, each of these cases has its individual quirks. Blumenthal mishandled her situation from the very beginning. She invoked the right to remain silent during her two police interrogations and then antagonized her judges by the somewhat pathetic sense of entitlement and privilege she projected in court during her trial. Sharon's case is more blatant. He confessed to gross violations of legal campaign funding restrictions. All he could say in his defense was that he did it for his father. Nevertheless, in other times, it would not be hard to imagine the court forgiving Blumenthal on the grounds, as she herself argued, that many politicians gave gifts of one sort of another to influential people. As for Sharon, in another time it could have been conceivable that the court would keep him out of jail since he was being "punished enough" by his father's medical state. Like the public, and perhaps under the influence of public opinion, the courts are becoming increasingly intolerant of corruption by public figures. The 2003 election for the 16th Knesset was a milestone in public revulsion against this kind of corruption, when every day seemed to yield a new scandal. Another contributing factor was the war waged by former state attorney Edna Arbel against public-sector corruption. Although she frequently came under harsh criticism for her indictments of public figures, and was often opposed by the attorneygeneral and the courts, her campaign made a strong impact. Another element was the final outcome of the trial of Shimon Sheves. Sheves was charged with fraud and breach of trust for having received or been promised large sums of money for things he did or tried to do in his capacity as directorgeneral of the Prime Minister's Office under Yitzhak Rabin. By the time Sheves had argued his case before the Tel Aviv District Court and the Supreme Court, he had been acquitted of all the charges against him. But the state dug in its heels and asked for another hearing before an expanded court, explaining that it was vital for the court to define once and for all what exactly the Criminal Code meant by fraud and breach of faith. In a landmark decision, the expanded court gave an authoritative interpretation of the law and ruled that Sheves had, indeed, broken it. The ruling meant that in the future the prosecution would better be able to gauge whether it had a corruption case that stood a good chance of winning in court. It is not only in the courts that this change in the atmosphere is being felt. Minister-without-Portfolio Tzahi Hanegbi, for example, has been in legal trouble before in his public career, but has never had to stand trial. His luck has probably run out this time - not necessarily because the allegations against him are more serious in this case than they have been in previous ones, but because the times have changed. Other MKs, such as Yair Peretz, Michael Gorlovsky, Yehiel Hazan and Shlomo Benizri, who are either standing trial or facing trial, will also likely discover that things aren't what they used to be.