Tzachi Hanegbi
Tzachi Hanegbi leaving court on July 13, 2010. Photo by Tomer Appelbaum
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As the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court opened debate Thursday on the sentencing of MK Tzachi Hanegbi over his perjury conviction, the former minister declared that he had suffered over the last seven years since the probe against him began.

"The most difficult part is the fact that even though you feel strong and that your innocence will be revealed, the price paid by your loved ones, who are maybe less strong or less optimistic, is heavy."

"There hasn't been a single family function over the last seven years that wasn't mixed with sadness." Hanegbi said. Adding that he had already paid dearly - politically, well, as he had been unable to fulfill his executive ministerial duties over the course of the police investigation.

Other government officials subject to police investigation were able to continue in their duties, said Hanegbi, adding that he had not. He pointed specifically to Agricultural Minister Shalom Simhon - who was previously under police probe - Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman - who has continued to fulfill his duties even as the case against him has dragged on for years.

The State Prosecution is seeking a suspended sentence against Hanegbi and has asked judges to determine that the offense against him involves moral turpitude, a finding that would prevent him from holding public office for several years.

"Tzachi Hanegbi's crimes are a classic case of moral turpitude, which stems from ongoing criminal activity," a representative of the State Prosecution told the judges.

When it came to his turn to speak at the end of the debate, Tzachi told the judges that he was leaving the courtroom with "a much greater awareness of how governmental bodies should be run, and of the need to keep them professionally independent."

Hanegbi was convicted of perjury in his testimony and swearing falsely in his deposition to the chairman of the Central Election Committee in July 2010.

For a public figure, the question of moral turpitude is uniquely significant; it can decide the possibility of his continued service as an elected official or public servant. The law cites a long list of local and national government posts that are out of bounds for someone convicted of an offense involving moral turpitude. Though already convicted, the court is now deliberating on whether to attach moral turpitude to Hanegbi's conviction, or not.

The prosecution stressed on Thursday that the "letters of support that Hanegbi submitted are not relevant in the decision whether to attach moral turpitude." Hanegbi's attorney said, however, that it was his intent to argue against attaching moral turpitude on the basis of the democratic desire of the public, as demonstrated by the letters.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak were among the prominent figures who wrote letters in Hanegbi's defense.

The prosecution has asked that beyond attaching moral turpitude to Hanegbi's crime, that the court suspend Hanegbi from the Knesset.

They stressed that they do not seek an active jail sentence, but rather only to prevent Hanegbi from serving in the current government. He will be eligible for election in the next poll. The prosecution is seeking, furthermore, a suspended sentence and a monetary fine.

"Perjury is a crime that moral turpitude is inherent in it," said the prosecutors, adding that Hanegbi's actions were "a premeditated lie that repeated itself in different forms several times," and not a one-time indiscretion.

"Hanegbi failed to take responsibility, and did not express remorse. This is not a momentary lapse of judgment," said one of the prosecutors. "How can you say that a man, who keeps lying, has learned his lesson? Every child knows that it is forbidden to lie."

The prosecution will, in most likelihood, request a sentence to be served in community service. The prosecution's decisions regarding both the desired sentence and the attachment of moral turpitude were reached after in-depth discussions involving Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein.

The prosecution will justify its request for moral turpitude with the desire to communicate a strong message to elected officials regarding the severity of the crime, especially in this specific case.

Former Knesset speaker Abraham Burg, who testified before the court on Hanegbi's behalf on Thursday, said that no one had summoned him; he had come of his own volition. "I wouldn't want moral turpitude to prevent him from continuing on the public service path," Burg told the court. "He was a political opponent. We do not cultivate any kind of personal relationship, but the public arena should be blessed with worthy opponents."

"I feel that Hanegbi is not a lying public figure," Burg went on to say. "He has never broken any promises made to me or my associates."