Ex-minister Tzachi Hanegbi Acquitted of Cronyism

Senior Kadima politician found not guilty of making political appointments - but convicted of perjury, leaving his career and the future of the government coalition in the balance.

Tzachi Hanegbi, a Knesset member for the opposition Kadima party and former minister, was on Tuesday acquitted of charges of nepotism during his time in office.

A three-judge panel of the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court ruled that Hanegbi had committed no crime in making numerous appointments while serving as environment minister for the Likud party before his move to Kadima.

Tzachi Hanegbi MK outside a Jerusalem court after his acquittal of corruption charges, July 13, 2010
Tomer Appelbaum

"The court decided has succeeded in strengthening the State of Israel," Hanegbi told reporters outside the court.

"I am happy, even elated, over the way the court has responded to my position in this difficult story," he said. "The court understood that during my time in office I was working according to a different system and the court therefore rejected by majority the attempt to characterize my actions criminal."

But despite ruling him not guilty of the major charges against him, the court convicted Hanegbi of giving false testimony during court hearing.

The case, which involved more than 100 witnesses and produced a transcript that ran to 15,000 pages, was used by lawyers as a flagship event in a campaign against political corruption.

Although in opposition, Hanegbi is a seen as close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and is believed to be one of the strongest proponents of a move to take Kadima, led by former foreign minister Tzipi Livni, into the government coalition.

Observers expected a not-guilty verdict to boost the chances of a deal with the ruling Likud. A conviction for corruption would have meant automatic suspension from the Knesset for Hanegbi and the effective end to his political career.

But with a perjury conviction hanging over him, Hanegbi may still struggle to rebuild his political standing. Immediately following the verdict, the consequences remained unclear.

"I have been given the opportunity to reflect on on the lessons I have learned and the mistakes I have made, to avoid them in future and continue to serve the State of Israel," he said.

Hanegbi's political appointments were allegedly made to gain favor with the Likud party's central committee. Former attorney general Menachem Mazuz, who made the decision to bring the charges against Hanegbi, saw party central committees as rife with corruption and hoped the Hanegbi case would serve as a deterrent.

Mazuz considered Hanegbi a particularly blatant offender, both because of the then-minister's personal involvement in the appointments and because of the sheer number of appointments he made: He allegedly appointed 50 people to positions at a ministry with a total staff of 500 - and at a time when new appointments had been frozen.