Dropped Charges for Olmert Give MK Tzachi Hanegbi Hope

With his trial for political appointments nearing its end, former environment minister and current MK Tzachi Hanegbi was thrown a lifeline by an unexpected source - the police, who recommended three weeks ago that his fellow Kadima party member, former prime minister Ehud Olmert, be charged with fraud and breach of trust only for his alleged political appointments.

Hanegbi's attorneys were stunned by this recommendation, because Hanegbi was charged with election bribery as well as fraud and breach of trust. Yet he is suspected of only about 80 political appointments at one ministry, the environment ministry, in 2001-03, whereas Olmert is suspected of some 260 political appointments at three different ministries - industry, finance and communications.

On Sunday, therefore, Hanegbi's attorneys asked the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court to grant them access to the investigative material in Olmert's case, so that they could examine it for relevant parallels to his case.

Inter alia, Gershon Gontovnik and Oded Gazit want to know whether the police ever considered indicting Olmert for election bribery, what parties the people Olmert allegedly appointed belonged to, and whether any of his appointments were made after the attorney general explicitly barred ministers from involvement in job applications by members of their party's central committee.

Gontovnik and Gazit stressed that the findings in Olmert's case "were of the greatest importance for the defense's main arguments" in Hanegbi's case.

Specifically, they wrote, the findings could provide crucial evidence of Hanegbi's claim that ministerial involvement in appointments at their ministries was routine, and not an aberration, as the prosecution claims, and thus does not constitute fraud and breach of trust.

In addition, it could refute the prosecution's claim that a minister doing favors for party central committee members in and of itself constitutes election bribery.

This claim stems from the fact that both Olmert and Hanegbi made most of their alleged appointments while still members of Likud, and at that time, Likud's central committee chose the party's Knesset slate.

"If so-and-so was involved in 260 'appointments' or 'benefits' to members of a [party's] electoral organ, or to other party activists, and he was never even investigated for election bribery and the police's decision in his case was that he should be charged only with breach of trust, this is a stance that substantively contradicts the state's position in [Hanegbi's] case, that an appointment constitutes election bribery by its very nature," the attorneys wrote.

Moreover, they argued, Israeli history is "replete with incidences of appointments made by ministers who were never indicted for bribery," so "the question of to what extent Minister Hanegbi's actions deviated from the norm is a question of cardinal importance for a breach of trust conviction."

The material in Olmert's case could help the court understand what the norm was at that time, and hence prove that Hanegbi did not deviate from it, they wrote.

Hanegbi appealed to the court after the prosecution rejected his request for access to the Olmert case files, charging that it was a mere "fishing expedition."

Moreover, the prosecutors wrote, even Olmert's lawyers have yet to see the 80 boxes full of material, and the prosecution has yet to decide whether it in fact warrants an indictment, or whether the police case has some holes that need to be filled via further investigation.

Therefore, they said, there is no justification for allowing a third party to see it at this stage.