Verdict awaited in Hanegbi case

J'lem court to decide on bribery, perjury charges for former minister.

Hanegbi 311 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Hanegbi 311
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Kadima MK Tzahi Hanegbi will be listening intently to the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court ruling on Tuesday about whether he broke the law when he made 69 political appointments between March 2001 and February 2003, as environment minister in Ariel Sharon’s government.
He is charged with fraud, breach of trust, election bribery, attempts to influence those with the power to vote, perjury and making a false oath. If convicted, Hanegbi would have to wait until September or October for his sentencing and for the key decision about whether his crimes involved moral turpitude, which would force him to leave the Knesset, which he has served in since 1988.
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But legal experts said on Monday that the moral turpitude question would already be clear in Tuesday’s ruling. They said that a conviction for bribery or perjury would likely be deemed as tainted with moral turpitude but the other charges would not.
Likud central committee members in the Knesset cafeteria expressed concern that the court would rule political appointments illegal. They said that even though Hanegbi jumped ship to Kadima, the judges would in effect be deciding whether current ministers could appoint activists from their party.
“Politicians should not be afraid to appoint people they trust,” one central committee member said. “In the US, it is understood that when an administration changes, politicians appoint people who share their views. If they have a degree and the proper skills, why not?” A Likud minister said that following Hanegbi’s indictment, the rules were changed retroactively. “We didn’t like it, but we can’t get around it, so we don’t mess around anymore,” the minister said.
A Likud activist who was appointed by Hanegbi during the time in question said the barring of political appointments made the system more corrupt, because instead of hiring small businessmen from their party, politicians try to help confidants of wealthy people who can contribute to their campaigns.
“Tzahi’s way was the way it was at the time,” the activist said. “For years, only Labor people were given political patronage positions.
“Here the Likud was giving guys who a never had a chance the ability to work. The game changed since then, but it can always come back.”
If Hanegbi is forced to leave the Knesset, he would be replaced by the next name on the Kadima candidates list, Georgian-born journalist Nino Absadze.
Should Kadima MK Eli Aflalo leave the Knesset before the ruling on Hanegbi’s moral turpitude, to become KKL/JNF cochairman, the next name after Absadze is party activist Avner Barzani, who died recently. That means that if both Hanegbi and Aflalo left the Knesset, academic and former Sayeret Matkal commander Doron Avital would become an MK.
A Kadima lawmaker expressed optimism on Monday that Hanegbi would be cleared and would win a race for the party’s leadership within a year. But sources close to Hanegbi said he did not intend to challenge current Kadima leader Tzipi Livni.
Dan Izenberg and Mark Rebacz contributed to this report.