Hanegbi verdict to be handed down tomorrow

Kadima MK likely to quit politics if he loses; his future may skyrocket if he wins

Hanegbi 311 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Hanegbi 311
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court is due to hand down a precedent-setting decision on Tuesday as to whether political appointments made by a cabinet minister constitute criminal acts.
On trial is Kadima MK Tzahi Hanegbi, who is charged with having made 69 political appointments between March 2001 and February 2003, when he served as minister of the environment in the government of then-prime minister Ariel Sharon.
According to the indictment, Hanegbi appointed 49 Environment Ministry employees and made 20 more ministryrelated appointments involving people “who belonged to the Likud Central Committee or were their relatives and several others who were close to the minister personally.” It charged him with fraud and breach of trust, election bribery, attempts to influence those with the power to vote, perjury and making a false oath.
Hanegbi is the first person to be indicted on criminal charges for appointments made as a cabinet minister, even though one state comptroller after another has leveled complaints about the practice.
Hanegbi’s trial was the longest in the country’s history and took place over the course of 131 court sessions.
The affair erupted just prior to a Likud Central Committee vote to determine the list of candidates for the 2003 national elections, when a party newsletter featured an article boasting that Hanegbi, as environmental affairs minister, had handed out jobs to more than 80 people connected to the Likud. In the article, Hanegbi was quoted as saying he “pleaded guilty” to the facts in the report.
A few days later, the Movement for Quality Government complained to the Central Elections Committee about Hanegbi’s alleged actions, and then-attorneygeneral Menahem Mazuz ordered police to conduct a criminal investigation.
According to the indictment, Hanegbi, “during his term as minister of the environment, acted premeditatedly and systematically, by himself and through others, to see to the appointment of members of the [Likud] Central Committee and people close to them (including sons and daughters, friends and the like) to as many offices and jobs as possible.
In so doing, he reduced the chances of the general public to vie for these offices and jobs, at times [without regard to the appointees’] skills and suitability.”
Under questioning by the Central Elections Committee, Hanegbi denied having anything to do with the article.
The prosecution disagreed and added charges of perjury and making a false oath to the indictment.
In response, Hanegbi defended the fact that he had encouraged members of the Likud to apply for civil service jobs.
“There is nothing wrong with this, as long as the professional mechanism for making appointments in the Ministry of the Environment applies professional criteria to the choice of candidates,” his attorney, Ya’acov Weinroth, wrote.
Weinroth added that in the “absolute majority of the appointments, Hanegbi was not involved in the assessment of the candidates or their integration [into the ministry].”
Furthermore, of the 200 appointments made at the ministry during Hanegbi’s term, only 45 were candidates who had been referred to the professional echelon by the minister’s bureau.
Regarding the charges that he had lied to the Central Election Committee, Hanegbi insisted that he had not written the article himself and had merely responded to its contents when asked.
At his court testimony in June and July 2008, Hanegbi argued that all ministers made political appointments. Furthermore, he said, in most cases, he or his aides had merely forwarded to the professional echelon the resumes of potential candidates who had asked for help in finding work, and had nothing more to do with the matter. Hanegbi said that had he known this was improper, he would not have done so.
After a trial lasting almost four years, what most concerns Hanegbi is whether or not the panel of three judges will rule that his actions involved moral turpitude, a decision that would bar him from holding public office for seven years. If that’s the case, he would permanently leave politics, Kadima officials said Sunday.
But if he’s cleared of all charges, or convicted but cleared of moral turpitude during sentencing, which is scheduled for September, he is expected to start playing a more high-profile role in Israeli politics. He would push for Kadima to enter the government, and then use whatever ministerial position he received to rehabilitate himself politically.
Hanegbi has tried to keep a low profile since he quit his post as internal security minister in 2004 to fight the charges against him. Since then, he has served as a minister-without- portfolio and as chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, rather than in more operational positions.
Sources close to the MK denied reports that he intended to challenge opposition leader Tzipi Livni for the Kadima leadership in the party’s next primary. But party officials see him as a future candidate for the post.
After spending $1 million defending himself in court and enduring other cases in the past, Hanegbi is looking forward to pursuing his career without legal obstacles. But if he loses the case, he has already decided not to appeal.
“He respects the professionalism of the judges,” a Kadima source said. “If they find him guilty and attach moral turpitude, he will quit the Knesset and his political career will end.”