'State must respond to petitions for Hirchson's suspension'

High Court gives until April 29 to respond on minister's alleged embezzlement of thousands.

avraham hirschson 88  (photo credit: )
avraham hirschson 88
(photo credit: )
The High Court of Justice on Thursday gave the state until April 29 to present a preliminary reply to petitions submitted by two watchdog organizations demanding that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert suspend Finance Minister Avraham Hirchson. Hirchson is currently under intensive investigation by the police on suspicions that he embezzled hundreds of thousands of shekels from the National Labor Union of the Land of Israel and its subsidiaries. The petitions were filed by Ometz and the Movement for Quality Government. Ometz called on the court to order Hirchson to suspend himself or have Olmert declare that Hirchson was suspended or that he was temporarily unable to fulfill his duties. The Movement for Quality Government asked the court to order Olmert to suspend Hirchson or take away his prerogatives as minister of finance during the investigation, or declare that he was temporarily unable to fulfill his duties. The petitions do not call on the High Court to fire Hirchson. The court established the "threshold" for firing ministers in trouble with the law in a petition submitted by the Movement for Quality Government against Arye Deri in 1993, when Deri was serving as minister of interior. Deri refused to resign after the state prosecution decided to indict him on bribery and other charges. The Movement for Quality Government petitioned the High Court, which then ordered Deri to step down. This ruling set a precedent: Ministers under investigation may continue in office; ministers who have been indicted must leave. Since the landmark ruling, the High Court took matters one step further when it ruled that then-public security minister Tzahi Hanegbi must give up his portfolio after the state attorney decided to launch a investigation into allegations that he had made political appointments while serving as minister of environment. However, Hanegbi remained in the cabinet as a minister-without-portfolio.