Ex-finance Minister's Lawyer: Hirchson Innocent, Won't Weigh Plea Bargain

Hirchson stands accused of embezzling NIS 2.5 million from National Workers Organization, youth movement.

The attorney for former finance minister Abraham Hirchson says his client, who is accused of embezzlement, will not consider a plea bargain. Attorney Yaakov Weinroth said Hirchson believes in his innocence and wants his day in court. He also said he had held no discussions with the State Prosecutor's Office over a plea bargain.

The State Prosecutor's Office declined to comment on the matter.

Hirchson appeared Tuesday in court for his first session before Judge Bracha Ophir-Tom. She addressed the parties: "Don't be shy about talking amongst yourselves"; this statement was taken by some to mean a plea bargain.

However, Weinroth said, "all she wanted to do was streamline the trial. After all, this wouldn't get a modicum of attention if it were heard before attorneys, but as it was in front of all the media, everyone jumped on every word."

Ophir-Tom directed the parties to submit their responses to the indictment by August 15 and enter evidence by August 30. She said she intended to hold the trial continuously in three or four sessions every week.

Hirchson stands accused of embezzling some NIS 2.5 million from the National Workers Organization (NWO) and the nonprofit Noar Yehudi Lemaan Yisrael (NILI) when he was NWO chairman between 1998 and 2005.

NIS 12.3 million was allegedly stolen by other NWO workers who are also defendants in the case.

Hirchon was charged with embezzlement, aggravated bribery, corporate breach of trust, money laundering and falsifying corporate documents.

The charges against him and the other defendants have been split into two indictments. Hirchson is being charged in the first indictment together with the former director-general of the NWO, Yitzhak Russo; the former NILI accountant, Amatzia Bonner, and Zion Cohen, former manager of the NWO's pension fund.

Russo told the court Tuesday he could not afford an attorney and asked that a public defender be appointed. The state asked the court to hear the case of this group of defendants before a three-judge bench in light of Hirchson's public position, but the court refused.

The second indictment comprises similar charges against defendants who had turned state's witnesses against the accused in the first indictment. The group consists of Zion Cohen's brother, who is the former head of the NWO's financial department, Ovadia Cohen; another brother, David Cohen, who worked as a NILI emissary, and a former worker in the union's accounting department, Ronit Gerti. Blame for the embezzlement of the NIS 12.3 million is planted onOvadia Cohen's shoulders. Of this amount, the largest sum was allegedly given to David Cohen, who was up to his neck in gambling debts.

The parties told Ophira-Tom Tuesday that they did not think the two cases could be heard by the same judge since the accused parties in the second indictment were testifying against the defendants in the first.