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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Mossad chief Meir Dagan yesterday joined a long list of public figures who have lined up in support of MK Tzachi Hanegbi, a former minister whose upcoming sentencing for a perjury conviction could stall or even halt his political career.

Should the court rule that his crime involved moral turpitude, he would be barred from most public offices for years.

In a letter to the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court, Netanyahu urged the judges not to impose a sentence that would keep Hanegbi from continuing his political career.

"The state will benefit if Hanegbi is allowed to serve in public positions, as he has done since he was elected to the Knesset," Netanyahu wrote.

Dagan's letter to the court cited Hanegbi's "professionalism, dedication and responsibility" in dealing with national security matters.

Israel's fifth president, Yitzhak Navon, and Defense Minister Ehud Barak had already urged the court to eschew a finding of turpitude. In one of several documents that Hanegbi's attorneys plan to submit to the court during his sentencing hearing tomorrow, Navon wrote: "Hanegbi has the ability to help prevent a split in the nation, and it is my hope that the transgression for which he has been found guilty will not prevent him from continuing in his important political activities."

Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein has yet to decide whether to seek a decision of turpitude, given that Hanegbi was acquitted in July of the more serious charges of fraud and breach of trust. However, the prosecution is reportedly considering such a request.

Hanegbi was accused of improperly appointing some 50 Likud Central Committee members or their relatives to civil service jobs between 2001 and 2003, when he was serving as environment minister, in a bid to improve his standing in the party (which he later abandoned for Kadima ).

But many of the testimonials Hanegbi's lawyers are bringing to the hearing were not written with his defense in mind. And in at least some cases, the authors were not informed that comments they had made in the past are being used in an effort to help Hanegbi during his sentencing.

The lawyers have even invoked Hanegbi's relationship with former Supreme Court Justice Haim Cohen, who died in 2002.

"Your matter-of-fact and considered approach to every matter (small and large ), your sound understanding and friendly relationship that you cultivated with the president of the Supreme Court, and your attention to the opinions and problems of ministry employees are worthy of gratitude and great esteem," Cohen wrote to Hanegbi in 1999, while Hanegbi was serving as justice minister.

Eliad Shraga, an attorney who heads the Movement for Quality Government, denounced the prime minister's intervention.

"Netanyahu's letter reflects turpitude in its own right," he said. "The prime minister is supposed to uphold the rule of law, but now he is coming to the defense of someone who should not remain a public servant. This is someone whose ethical judgment is flawed."

Shraga added that Netanyahu should observe the principle of separation of powers: As head of the executive branch, he should not intervene in the judiciary's decisions.