Hanegbi tried for political appointments

Kadima MK and FADC chairman: If I had known what I was doing was wrong, I would not have done it.

olmert hanegbi 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
olmert hanegbi 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
"If I had known political appointments were improper, I would have stopped them immediately," Kadima MK Tzahi Hanegbi told the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court on Sunday during his first day on the witness stand. Hanegbi is on trial for fraud and breach of trust, election bribery, false testimony and lying under oath. According to the indictment, Hanegbi made dozens of political appointments to the Environmental Protection Ministry while serving as minister between 2001 and 2003. He was indicted on September 25, 2006, and his trial began the following month. Hanegbi, represented by attorney Ya'acov Weinroth, pleaded not guilty to the charges. On Sunday, he told the court he considered the appointments "something to definitely be welcomed. The feeling was that the requests submitted to the ministry [by members of the Likud central committee] were more on behalf of their children. I was favorably impressed by the fact that they regarded working for the civil service as a positive thing." He added that even before he became a cabinet minister, political appointments were common. "No one ever told me this practice was improper. Had they told me, I would have stopped immediately. Instead of pointing out to me that this was improper behavior, they did the opposite." The behavior Hanegbi was referring to entailed handing over applications and requests for jobs received from members of the Likud central committee to the ministry's administrative and manpower branch for processing. "They weren't even passive about it," he continued, implying that the administrative branch not only accepted the applications but acted upon them. "This conduct indicates that they regarded this procedure as proper." Hanegbi added that he and the hand-picked appointees in his bureau did not dictate to the ministry's professional staff to hire certain people rather than others, or to give them favorable treatment. Asked why he requested a list of all the vacant jobs in the ministry from the head of the administrative division, Hanegbi replied, "I came to run a ministry with an ocean of topics and I had to formulate a policy. Therefore, I asked all the deputy directors-general for information, not just on manpower. I was asked why I didn't just hand over all the names of applicants [that I received from Likud central committee members] to the administrative department [without looking at them]. It's because there were so many. "So we asked ourselves a preliminary question as to whether the requirements of the office tallied with the curriculum vitae of each applicant. Instead of handing over all the applications to the administrative staff, we conducted a preliminary screening. Now, there are new norms. The attorney-general has handed down instructions not to make an initial screening but to hand over all the applications [to the administrative division]. I don't know if that's the right thing to do, but if that's the regulation, it has to be obeyed. In my day, this regulation did not exist and I acted as I thought right. Never for a moment did I think that I was disrupting the ministry's screening process and that was never as much as hinted to me." Hanegbi is scheduled to testify two more times this week before Judges Yoel Tsur, Aryeh Romanoff and Oded Shaham.