Hanegbi: Verdict ‘ruled out criminality’

MK faces possible 7-year ban from politics.

hanegbi 311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
hanegbi 311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee chairman Tzahi Hanegbi tried to put a positive spin on Tuesday’s ruling by the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court in which he was acquitted of three charges but convicted of two others, by describing it as a “win-win” situation.
At an impromptu press conference in the courtyard of the old Russian Compound building that houses the court, Hanegbi said that “the state prosecution can be satisfied because an important new norm has been formulated regarding this matter [i.e., political appointments] and we, of course, are happy about the application of the decision, which ruled out criminality in the case of Tzahi Hanegbi.”
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The state was not as generous in its response to the verdict.
“Hanegbi deserves to be convicted for the crime of fraud and breach of trust, and for the accompanying charges in the indictment,” the Justice Ministry declared in a prepared statement.
“This, on the basis of Supreme Court rulings, State Comptroller reports and administrative rules in this area.”
In a split decision, Judges Yoel Tsur, Aryeh Romanov and Oded Shaham acquitted Hanegbi of the central charge of fraud and breach of trust, which was based on the allegation that as environmental protection minister between 2001 and 2003, Hanegbi appointed 69 Likud central committee members or their relatives to ministry jobs. As a corollary, he was also charged with election bribery and seeking to influence those with the power to vote.
Despite the two-to-one vote to convict, Hanegbi was acquitted because Romanov accepted the argument of defense attorneys Yaakov Weinroth, Gershon Guntovsky and Oded Gazit, who pleaded that the charge should be dropped on the grounds of “defense based on justice.” This concept implies that there is something unjust about the charge that the state has leveled that is separate from the question of whether the charge is true.
Tsur, who headed the panel of judges, agreed with Romanov that many ministers had made political appointments before Hanegbi, and that this was the first time the state had pressed criminal charges.
They ruled that this was not fair to Hanegbi.
While the central charge in the indictment was dropped, Romanov and Shaham found Hanegbi guilty of perjury and making a false oath. The state accused Hanegbi of lying under oath to the Election Committee, headed by retired Supreme Court justice Mishael Cheshin, when he testified that he had not written an article published in a Likud magazine.
The article essentially boasted that Hanegbi had given jobs to more than 80 members of the party’s central committee.
The key question now is whether the court will find that the activity for which Hanegbi was convicted involved “moral turpitude.”
According to the law, if the court finds an MK guilty of a charge and explicitly determines that the crime involved moral turpitude, he or she will be barred from serving in the Knesset for seven years.
Hanegbi denied that his perjury conviction fell into this category.
“For many reasons, there is no moral turpitude in this matter at all,” he said at another press conference at the Knesset later in the day.
He added his hope that at his sentencing, the court would remember that the political appointments affair had begun eight years ago, and that for the past six years he had been unable to fill certain cabinet posts (such as minister of public security, from which he had been forced to resign), and that since his trial began four years ago, he had been barred from serving in any cabinet position at all.
“I have been punished already,” he said.
The state declined on Tuesday to say whether it would ask the court to rule on the issue of moral turpitude.
However, it may have provided a hint when it described the perjury charge as follows: “The crime of perjury for which the defendant was convicted is serious in itself. Although it does not have the uniqueness, including the normative complexity, that characterizes the other parts of the indictment, we are still talking about a serious and significant incident in and of itself.”
Erez Padan, a member of the prosecution, said the material would be studied.
“At this stage, beyond the bottom lines of the verdict, it is hard to say whether we will appeal or ask the court to determine moral turpitude,” Padan said. “It is a complex decision. We will study it and consult among ourselves.”
Hanegbi said he was against appealing the ruling and hoped the state would feel the same way.
“Enough is enough,” he said. However, his lawyers did not rule out the possibility.
From a legal point of view, the most important element in Tuesday’s ruling was the determination that the political appointments made by Hanegbi had been illegal.
In reaching that conclusion, Romanov and Shaham analyzed a landmark ruling handed down by the High Court of Justice in the case of Shimon Sheves, director of the Prime Minister’s Office under Yitzhak Rabin. Sheves had been charged with fraud and breach of faith for accepting money or job offers from friends and acquaintances while serving as Rabin’s assistant, and with using the power of his office to advance their interests.
In the end, Sheves was acquitted.
The state asked the Supreme Court to hear the case one more time and to clarify what constitutes fraud and breach of faith. The court granted the request and in its ruling went into great detail to explain the vague charge. It also convicted Sheves.
Romanov and Shaham wrote that they had applied the principles established by the Supreme Court in the Sheves case to the allegations against Hanegbi, and found that he, too, had violated the law as defined by the court.