Likud MK to face second indictment over tax offenses — TV

Report says AG expected to announce charges against Haim Katz in coming days over suspicions he hid NIS 2.2 million in income over a decade

Likud MK Haim Katz during a Knesset plenary session debate on his request for parliamentary immunity from prosecution, February 20, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Likud MK Haim Katz during a Knesset plenary session debate on his request for parliamentary immunity from prosecution, February 20, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit has decided to file a second indictment against Likud MK Haim Katz for suspected tax offenses, Israeli television reported Monday.

Mandelblit is expected to announce the charges against Katz in the coming days, Channel 12 news said.

Katz, who already faces 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, according to the report.

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, the network said.

There was no response from Katz to the report.

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)

In February, Katz received parliamentary immunity to shield himself from the charges of fraud and breach of trust. Mandelblit has urged the High Court of Justice to overturn the decision and allow the former welfare minister to be prosecuted.

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.

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.

MK Haim Katz attends a House Committee discussion on his request for immunity, at the Knesset on February 4, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

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 and MK David Bitan at a Likud party rally in Tel Aviv on August 9, 2017. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the head of 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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