Between Hanegbi and Holyland

The story of the former environment minister’s activities and his conviction has a connection to other important stories in the news these days − particularly those of former prime minister Ehud Olmert, now on trial, and David Appel, convicted of bribery this week.

In recent years Tzachi Hanegbi − formerly of Likud, now of Kadima − has acquired the unique status of confidant and super-adviser, but with the ability to progress from having the ear of the leader to being the leader himself.

Amos Biderman
Amos Biderman

On trial for inappropriate political appointments, he was acquitted this week of fraud and breach of trust, but convicted of perjury. Much has been said in the past three days about the legal and political implications of the ruling. In the background remains the story behind the story: Indeed, Hanegbi’s story also intersects with the stories of former prime minister Ehud Olmert, on trial for involvement in the Holyland affair, and of David Appel, who was convicted of bribery this week.

Prior to the January 2003 Knesset elections, there were internal party primary elections. On the eve of the elections, in December 2002, Hanegbi was found to be the biggest vote-getter in the Likud central committee. This impressive achievement was the result of his declared success at making a large number of political appointments in the Environment Ministry. Now Hanegbi has gotten into hot water for denying responsibility for the appointments in his testimony before the chairman of the Central Elections Committee at the time, former Supreme Court justice Mishael Cheshin.

The affair drove the Movement for Quality Government in Israel to draw up a petition against Hanegbi and Likud. The petition was withdrawn but it brought about an investigation and report by then-state comptroller, retired justice Eliezer Goldberg. Two years later, the investigation led to an indictment. Now the ruling has been issued.

In a combative lecture against public corruption on November 3, 2004, Goldberg spoke about the Hanegbi report and said: “Last week the attorney general [Menachem Mazuz] published a guideline for elected officials, their assistants and the directors of government ministries regarding how to handle requests by members of an electing body regarding personal and business matters. This is an important guideline, but at base it contains nothing new. It reflects the law, which has always existed.”

Probes and leaks

In early January 2003, there was a report ‏(by Baruch Kra, in Haaretz‏) about a judicial inquiry in the United States against then-prime minister Ariel Sharon in what was called the Annex Research affair, involving election financing in the previous campaign. Then-attorney general Elyakim Rubinstein believed the source behind the report was the head of the police investigations unit at the time, Moshe Mizrahi.

After reading about Sharon’s judicial inquiry, Rubinstein appointed a team headed by Oren Shendar and an officer from outside the investigations unit, Shlomi Ayalon, to find the source of the leak. With the help of the mysterious media man “Nesher,” who betrayed his profession, Kra’s source was revealed. To Rubinstein’s bitter disappointment, it turned out Mizrahi had no connection to the affair.

Meanwhile, an investigation into Appel’s relationship with Sharon, his son Gilad, and Ehud Olmert approached its conclusion. The so-called Greek island affair involved only Appel’s connections with Olmert and some of Appel’s connections with Sharon. The second part of the Appel-Sharon story centered around real estate in and around Lod. The investigations were conducted by Miri Golan of the National Fraud Unit and Yohanan Danino of the international investigations unit, under the supervision of Mizrahi and state prosecutor Edna Arbel.

When Sharon formed his government after his 2003 election victory, Hanegbi moved from the Environment Ministry to the Public Security Ministry. Rubinstein hoped Hanegbi would oust Mizrahi. Hanegbi refused, saying he would change the organization of the police force instead − by combining the investigation and intelligence branches. Afterward, it would be natural to appoint another commissioner for the new job and offer Mizrahi a different job at national headquarters. The reorganization was set for 2005.

Here’s how things unraveled:
• January 1, 2004. Rubinstein leaves, Arbel replaces him as acting attorney general for a month.
• January 21. With Arbel’s approval, the Tel Aviv district prosecution indicts Appel on the charges of bribing Ariel and Gilad Sharon, and alsoEhud Olmert. Arbel chooses to wait for Mazuz to take his post as permanent attorney general, instead of exploiting her authority to file an indictment against the Sharons ‏(she was planning to close the file against Olmert‏).

Appel, the indictment stated, “accumulated power and influence over national and local figures in the administration and the government. His status gave him a direct connection to officials in all levels of the administration and the government. Over the years, he took an active part in various [Likud] party matters, including appointing office holders in various political and public positions. He is known to have power and influence when it comes to public and political appointments.”

In addition to Appel, the indictment focused on his friend Benny Tavin. The two were also accused of bribing former Lod mayor Benny Regev. This part of the indictment is what developed into the conviction of Appel and Tavin this week.

February 1. Mazuz becomes attorney general.

March 28. Arbel recommends Mazuz indict Ariel and Gilad Sharon for accepting bribes from Appel.