Courts to Rule on Jail Time for Two Former Ministers Today

Two former government ministers face court verdicts today that could put them behind bars for many months, if not years. Former finance minister Abraham Hirchson could spend seven years in prison for stealing from a nonprofit organization, while former Shas MK Shlomo Benizri faces 18 months for crimes including accepting a bribe.

The sentencing hearing for Hirchson is scheduled to take place at the Tel Aviv District Court. Hirchson was convicted of stealing NIS 1.8 million from the National Workers Organization when he was its chairman.

The prosecution says it wants Hirchson to get the most severe sentence of all defendants in the case, implying a prison term as high as seven years.

Yesterday Hirchson, of the Kadima party, returned NIS 570,000 to the organization, in addition to the NIS 1.16 million he gave back in deferred checks before his main testimony in the trial.

Last week, Hirchson's attorney, Yaakov Weinrot, told the court his client planned to return the full amount he was convicted of stealing, but would only do so after the sentence was passed. "We thought it would be hypocritical to do so any sooner," Weinrot said.

In a letter to the organization yesterday, Weinrot claimed that the sum Hirchson was convicted of stealing amounted to NIS 1.73 million, so he only needed to return NIS 570,000 more. The prosecution wrote to the court that it thought the sum was higher. Justice Bracha Ofir-Tom, who did not cite the actual sum in her verdict, said last week that by her calculation the sum was NIS 1.79 million.

The National Workers Organization confirmed yesterday it had received the check. Its lawyer, Nachum Feinberg, said the organization only saw in the payment "a settlement of a debt," but that the affair was not over. Feinberg also said the organization insisted that it receive the full sum Hirchson owes immediately, rather than in checks spread out over two years.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court today will deliver its verdict on an appeal by Benizri, who was sentenced to 18 months imprisonment by the Jerusalem District Court last year.

Benizri had been convicted of several offenses including accepting a bribe, and the court ruled that Benizri's offenses were acts of moral turpitude, forcing Benizri to resign from the Knesset.

Both the state prosecutor's office and Benizri's religious and political patron, Rabbi Reuben Elbaz, who was convicted alongside the former Shas MK, have appealed to the Supreme Court against the ruling.

According to the verdict, while serving as labor and welfare minister, Benizri provided illegal assistance to his friend Moshe Sela, who owned companies bringing migrant workers into Israel, for a bribe of NIS 100,000.

He was convicted of accepting a bribe, breach of trust, conspiring to commit a crime and obstruction of justice. Rabbi Elbaz was convicted of facilitating a bribe and conspiring to commit a crime.