AG asks High Court to remove Likud minister Katz’s immunity from prosecution
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AG asks High Court to remove Likud minister Katz’s immunity from prosecution

In legal opinion, Avichai Mandelblit tells justices that Knesset ‘exceeded authority’ in shielding former minister from corruption charges

Likud MK Haim Katz during a Knesset plenary session debate on his request for parliamentary immunity from prosecution, February 17, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Likud MK Haim Katz during a Knesset plenary session debate on his request for parliamentary immunity from prosecution, February 17, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit on Wednesday urged the High Court of Justice to remove Likud MK Haim Katz’s immunity from prosecution, saying lawmakers had “exceeded” their authority in granting it in the first place.

In February, Knesset members voted 62 to 43 in favor of granting Katz parliamentary immunity from a criminal probe into charges of fraud and breach of trust, preventing Mandelblit from filing an indictment against the former welfare minister.

In a written opinion presented as part of a petition by the Movement for Quality Government in Israel, Mandelblit said the step constituted a “deviation from authority” and was characterized by “extreme unreasonableness.”

Mandelblit argued that Katz’s alleged crimes were not committed in the context of his legislative duties, making him ineligible for immunity.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit speaks at an event in Bar Ilan University. March 4, 2020. (FLASH90)

According to the 2005 law on parliamentary immunity, “substantive immunity” — a form of parliamentary immunity that permanently blocks an indictment and not just while the accused is a serving MK — can be granted by the Knesset for actions the House Committee finds were committed in the legitimate fulfillment of parliamentary duties.

The vote was also taken by a transitional government, ahead of the March elections, the third in a year.

Katz was facing the charges for allegedly advancing a bill on corporate bond repayment pushed by a financial consultant who was a close friend and financial adviser to Katz himself, and which benefited him financially once it became law. Katz was also accused of concealing those conflicts of interest.

The indictment centered on allegations that Katz, while serving as chairman of the Knesset Labor and Welfare Committee from 2005 to 2006 and again from 2009 to 2013, advanced Amendment 44 to the Securities Law at the request of businessman Mordechai Ben Ari. The law stipulates that companies must repay bond debt to small bondholders before it repays controlling owners — an attempt to buck the influence of wealthy and powerful investors in order to help protect the interests of small investors. Ben Ari’s business represents groups of such small bondholders in several companies.

After Mandelblit’s August 2019 decision to indict Katz, the then-welfare minister resigned from the cabinet, adhering to a practice established in the 1990s with the court-upheld resignations of indicted cabinet members Aryeh Deri and Raphael Pinhasi.

February’s vote was broadly along partisan lines — representatives of Likud, Yisrael Beytenu, Shas, United Torah Judaism and Yamina all sided with Katz; while those of Blue and White, Labor-Gesher, Democratic Camp and the Joint List largely voted against immunity.

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