The Knesset House Committee, which convened last week especially to discuss Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s request for immunity, found itself on Thursday “only” deliberating over the immunity request of Likud MK Haim Katz, after the prime minister withdrew his request at the last minute. The committee is expected to vote on Tuesday on the request by Katz, who is suspected of fraud and breach of trust.
According to the indictment, Katz acted to have a bill passed that was formulated by his financial adviser Moti Ben-Ari, which would have been worth millions of shekels to him and Ben-Ari. The bill in question, Amendment 44 to the Securities Law, would have changed the way public companies repaid debts in a way that would have benefited the bond holders in such companies. The indictment states that Katz fast-tracked the legislation, which was passed within three months, while both he and Ben-Ari were major bond-holders in such companies.
In addition, Katz is accused of lying when asked about the matter by the Knesset Ethics Committee and concealing his economic ties to Ben-Ari.
Although Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit told the committee that in his opinion Katz’s immunity request should be rejected, and although he stated unequivocally to the committee that Katz’s action was “criminal,” it seems that the committee members have their doubts. Mendelblit tried to explain to them that Katz’s conduct was not in the “gray zone,” but the committee had trouble understanding when they are barred from promoting issues because of a conflict of interests. “We don’t know where the boundary is,” said MK Revital Swid (Labor-Gesher-Meretz). Likud MK Miki Zohar added: “Elected officials can’t go to the attorney general all the time asking whether they are acting within the law. I seek the security to act freely.” This might also be a side effect of the culture of corruption generated by the prime minister. No one is overly concerned about alleged criminal activity by elected officials.
The law describes four reasons to freeze an indictment against a member of Knesset: the alleged offense was committed in fulfillment of the MK’s duties; the indictment was not filed in good faith or was filed in a discriminatory manner; the alleged offense was committed in the Knesset complex and the parliamentarian in question had already been subject to internalsanctions; criminal proceedings could cause real damage to the functioning of the Knesset or its committees. The attorney general determined that none of these reasons applied in Katz’s case.
Alleged criminal conduct by elected officials must not be tolerated. If the House Committee grants Katz’s request on Tuesday it will convey a contorted message to the public that not everyone is equal before the law. Katz must fight for his innocence in court.