MK Hanegbi Faces Court Ruling on Allegations of Political Appointments

Law enforcement officials consider the case, which involved more than 100 witnesses, the flagship of their campaign against political corruption.

A three-judge panel of the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court will hand down its verdict today on whether MK Tzachi Hanegbi committed a crime by making numerous political appointments while serving as environmental protection minister.

Tzachi Hanegbi
Daniel Bar-On

Law enforcement officials consider the case, which involved more than 100 witnesses and produced a transcript that ran to 15,000 pages, the flagship of their campaign against political corruption.

The prosecution has refused in recent days to comment on whether it believes Hanegbi will be convicted, and if so, whether it will ask the court to sentence the Kadima MK to prison time.

If Hanegbi is convicted, it would not be surprising if the prosecution did ask for jail time. But that decision will be made only after the verdict is issued, as it will depend on which charges the court found him guilty of and what its reasoning was.

The prosecution has said, however, that if Hanegbi is convicted, it will ask the court to declare that the crime involved moral turpitude. Such a finding would keep him out of public life for a long time even if he were not jailed.

Hanegbi's political appointments, like those of many politicians, were allegedly made to gain favor with members of his party's central committee (at the time, he belonged to Likud ). Former attorney general Menachem Mazuz, who decided to bring the charges against Hanegbi, considered party central committees to be swamps of political corruption, and therefore hoped the Hanegbi case would serve as a deterrent against such corruption.

Hanegbi was considered a particularly blatant offender, both because of the then-minister's personal involvement in the appointments and because of the sheer number of appointments he made: He allegedly appointed 50 people to positions at a ministry with a total staff of 500 - and at a time when new appointments had been frozen.

The indictment charged that by making serial political appointments, Hanegbi had used public resources to serve his own political and personal interests rather than the public good. In so doing, it said, he undermined the principle of equal opportunity for employment in the civil service, infected the civil service with party politics, undermined the service's integrity and damaged the public's faith in it.

In June 2008, as Hanegbi's testimony was about to begin, attorney Jacob Weinroth outlined his client's defense.

"As we see it, this case is not about political appointments," Weinroth said. "Political appointments were not something Mr. Hanegbi invented. The right question is whether the involvement of the minister and members of his bureau in appointments at the ministry was permissible or not ... Does this amount to a criminal offense?"

Weinroth argued that prior to a directive issued by the attorney general on the subject, which in turn stemmed from a state comptroller's report on political appointments, "no one thought that it was wrong for a minister or members of his bureau to be substantially involved in the process of filling various posts in their ministries...

"In real time, the connection between the minister's bureau and the [ministry's] professional ranks was not seen as legally or substantively flawed," he concluded.