Likud MK Haim Katz set to be charged with tax dodging

Ex-welfare minister was previously to have been indicted in a separate fraud case, but was granted immunity by the Knesset earlier this year

Likud MK Haim Katz attends a debate on his request for immunity at the Knesset House Committee, January 30, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Likud MK Haim Katz attends a debate on his request for immunity at the Knesset House Committee, January 30, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit informed Likud MK Haim Katz Tuesday that he intends to indict him for alleged tax offenses, pending a hearing.

Mandelblit’s intention to do so was first reported Monday night by Channel 12.

Katz, who already faces another indictment on fraud and breach of trust charges, is alleged to have hidden income totaling NIS 2.2 million (around $650,000) over the course of 12 years.

The income came from seven properties Katz owns, some of which are registered in his name and the others under the names of family members.

In February, Katz received parliamentary immunity to shield himself from charges of fraud and breach of trust, 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.

Mandelblit has urged the High Court of Justice to overturn the decision to shield Katz and allow the former welfare minister to be prosecuted.

On Tuesday evening Katz said he hoped the hearing process would disprove “the false accusations against me, and that this will end [my] persecution.”

He said that “the tax issue has been blown out of proportion. There is not a person in Israel who has been indicted under similar circumstances.”

After Mandelblit’s August 2019 decision to indict Katz in the corporate bond affair, 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.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit attends a debate on Likud MK Haim Katz’s request for immunity at the Knesset House Committee, January 30, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

But in February, Knesset members voted 62 to 43 in favor of granting Katz parliamentary immunity from the charges, preventing Mandelblit from filing an indictment against the former welfare minister.

In a written opinion presented to the High Court in July 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.

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.

Katz is one of several Likud lawmakers facing graft charges.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the head of the right-wing party, is on trial for fraud and breach of trust in three criminal cases, as well as bribery in one of them. He denies wrongdoing and claims a conspiracy by political rivals, the media and law enforcement seeking to force him from power.

Likud MK David Bitan was charged in January with bribery, fraud, and breach of trust, as well as money laundering and tax offenses.

The charges against him are pending a pre-indictment hearing.

Bitan, who is accused of receiving NIS 992,000 ($287,000) in bribes while serving as deputy mayor of Rishon Lezion and as a Knesset member, has denied wrongdoing.

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