Mazuz to decide on Hanegbi indictment

Att.-Gen. set to decide to indict former minister for illegal appointments.

Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz said on Sunday he will make his final decision on whether to file an indictment against Kadima MK Tzahi Hanegbi in the coming weeks, after conducting a hearing for him earlier in the day. Hanegbi attended the hearing together with his attorney, Ya'acov Weinroth. Mazuz was accompanied by State Attorney Eran Shendar and other senior ministry officials. Weinroth issued a statement after the meeting saying that "a thorough and comprehensive study of the evidence that was presented to us before the hearing has strengthened our conviction that MK Tzahi Hanegbi is innocent. Should the attorney-general not accept the position we presented to him, we believe that the court will acquit him at the end of the day, after all the material has been presented to it." If Mazuz decides to indict him, Hanegbi would be charged with fraud and breach of faith, election bribery, making a false oath and perjury. The attorney-general urged Hanegbi several months ago to resign from his cabinet post in the caretaker government of then-Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and ruled that Hanegbi could not take up a ministerial post in the government that would be established after the election. Hanegbi presently serves as chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. Hanegbi was alleged to have made dozens of illegal appointments to the Environment Ministry while serving as minister in the first Sharon government from 2001 to 2003. Mazuz ordered police to investigate Hanegbi, who by then was serving as Internal Security Minister in the second Sharon government, on September 1, 2004, in the wake of a scathing report by former state comptroller Eliezer Goldberg on "political and improper appointments" to the Environment Ministry. Goldberg found that under Hanegbi's administration, dozens of members of the Likud Central Committee or their relatives had been given jobs in the ministry. "Hanegbi's actions brutally trampled the law and the rules of proper administration, politicized the public service and exploited public resources to advance his personal and political interests," wrote Goldberg. If Mazuz decides to indict Hanegbi, it would mark the first time that a politician has been put on criminal trial for making political appointments, although a succession of state comptrollers have complained about the problem for many years. Indeed, the fact that such an indictment would set a precedent is one of Hanegbi's arguments in his defense. He has claimed that everyone knew politicians had been making political appointments for years and no one had ever punished any of them for doing so. Weinroth also argued that all of the appointments made to the Environment Ministry under Hanegbi were made by professional staffers.