MK Tzachi Hanegbi (Kadima ) will automatically be suspended from the Knesset as of today after a court ruled yesterday that his perjury conviction involved moral turpitude.
But the legal battle is far from over: The prosecution has already announced that it plans to appeal his acquittal on other charges, and Hanegbi is expected to appeal both his conviction and his sentence.
In addition to the turpitude finding, the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court fined Hanegbi NIS 10,000. However, it did not sentence him to jail or community service.
As a result, though the turpitude ruling forces Hanegbi's suspension from the Knesset it will not prevent him from running for the next Knesset, nor would it bar him from serving as a minister. Only a turpitude ruling combined with actual prison time would do that.
The prosecution said it plans to appeal his acquittal on what it considered the main charges in the indictment: fraud and breach of trust, electoral bribery and attempting to improperly influence voters by appointing dozens of Likud party activists and their relatives to jobs in the Environment Ministry when he served as minister in 2001-03.
At the time, Hanegbi was a member of Likud, though he switched to Kadima when the latter party was formed in 2005.
Judges Aryeh Romanoff and Oded Shaham, with Yoel Tsur dissenting, said they based their turpitude finding partly on the fact that Hanegbi never confessed his perjury, took responsibility or expressed regret.
"Is there a moral flaw in his actions?" they wrote. "Do they entail turpitude? Can he return to his work in the Knesset as of yore as if nothing had happened?"
And they answered: "In the end, despite all the extenuating circumstances, despite all the learned arguments made before us, despite the entire broad spectrum of considerations we were prepared to take into account - in the end, the lie remains. A lie is a lie, and a lie entails turpitude."
The lie in question was made to the chairman of the Central Elections Commission, in response to a query about whether Hanegbi was involved in preparing a campaign advertisement that boasted of his political appointments and urged Likud Central Committee members to place him high up on the party's Knesset slate so he could be reelected and make more such appointments.
Tsur, who had also dissented from the court's original decision to convict Hanegbi, opposed the turpitude ruling, saying maximum restraint should be exercised when a court ruling would result in the ouster of one of the public's elected representatives.
He also argued that turpitude should be reserved for serious crimes such as rape, larceny or extortion, and that precisely because Hanegbi is an MK he has already suffered more than an ordinary person would because of the wide public exposure his case has received.
But Romanoff and Shaham did not buy that argument. The issue, they wrote, is one of "the standards to which we educate our children, the type of behavior we seek to instill in the state's citizens, our expectations of those who litigate in our courts, the code of conduct we expect to find in our leaders, the character of the society we wish to have. When we speak of values, what we see before our eyes are the people who aspire to the best, the pure-minded, the ones who take the high road. Can we rule that a lie does not entail turpitude?"
Hanegbi, who was in court with his wife and one of his sons, said after hearing the decision that "this morning is naturally a difficult and painful one for me. For eight years, I've waged a legal battle in the belief that the final outcome would be balanced and positive.
"I received encouragement from the fact that the recent verdict" - his conviction, which was handed down some four months before yesterday's sentencing - "acquitted me of all the main charges in the indictment. But the court ruled as it did this morning. And despite my deep disappointment, a judicial decision must be respected - and I do respect it."
Hanegbi will be replaced in the Knesset, for now, by the next person on Kadima's list, Russian-language journalist Nino Abesadze. But Abesadze's tenure could be short-lived: While the law mandates Hanegbi's immediate suspension (which will take effect at midnight tonight ), it also allows for his immediate reinstatement should a higher court overturn either the entire conviction or just the turpitude finding. Only if the verdict remains intact once the appeals process has been exhausted would Abesadze's appointment become permanent.
Abesadze, 43, an immigrant from Tbilisi, Georgia, is a dove who is closely identified with party leader Tzipi Livni. She headed the Geneva Initiative's Russian-language operation, aimed at persuading Russian-speaking Israelis to support the peace plan drafted by former MK Yossi Beilin and the Palestinian Authority's Yasser Abed Rabbo. She was also a featured speaker a few months ago at a rally in Jerusalem organized by Peace Now and the National Left.
As a journalist, Abesadze served as a political analyst for the Russian-language paper Vesti and as a presenter on various Russian-language television programs.
She was originally supposed to have entered the Knesset half a year ago, when MK Efi Aflalo accepted a senior position in the Jewish National Fund, but his appointment was delayed by legal battles and he has not yet left the Knesset.
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