In an unprecedented decision, the Knesset House Committee granted former Welfare Minister Haim Katz (Likud) immunity from prosecution on charges of corruption.
The committee voted 17-12 to approve Katz request for immunity after a heated debate on Tuesday. He thus became the first Knesset member ever to win immunity in the House Committee.
After the vote, Katz declared to the committee: “I apologize that you have had to spend so many hours here because of me. Sorry for the inconvenience. I learned my lesson, thank you very much.”
The decision must still be voted on by the full Knesset plenum, and will likely face a challenge in the High Court, as well, as the Movement for Quality Government said it plans to appeal the decision, Channel 12 reported.
During a committee hearing earlier in the day, Katz blasted Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, accusing him of fabricating charges against him.
Katz, who has protested his innocence of allegations of corruption throughout, told Mandelblit:
“You’ve built a fairy tale. What’s happening here is One Thousand and One Nights. You haven’t done your homework,” he quoted as saying by Ynet.
Katz also complained to the Knesset’s House Committee chairman, Avi Nissenkorn (Blue and White) that Mandelblit “is destroying my health. He’s hurting me. You don’t understand. Over nothing.”
The outburst came after Mandelblit said the ex-minister’s actions bordered on bribery, a more serious crime than the fraud and breach of trust charges he actually plans on filing.
Katz is accused of promoting a bill to help a businessman friend.
Defense lawyer Navit Negev argued that Katz deserves immunity from prosecution because the indictment is based on a “confusion.” “We claim that the indictment was in fact based on a different rule from the Knesset rules.
“The rules of conflict [of interest] that apply to Knesset members are completely different from those that apply to public servants. The norms that have been argued that Katz broke do not exist in reality and have no legal and normative basis,” she said.
“This is the basis of the confusion. In fact, this is an interference in the work of the Knesset,” Negev said, and that Katz conducted himself in accordance with conflict of interest rules for MKs.
Mandelblit said that the cronyism practiced by Katz “are not too far from bribery.” Nor is is it only a matter of advancing legislation to benefit a friend, “but a variety of false actions and misrepresentations that included deliberate concealment. This is fraud and breach of trust at the highest level.”
Updated Tuesday, February 4, 2020 at 3:18 pm add info