Israeli lawmakers grant former cabinet minister Haim Katz immunity

Feb. 17 (UPI) — Israeli lawmakers voted Monday to grant Haim Katz of the Likud parliamentary group legislative immunity from prosecution over an alleged conflict of interest for personal gain.

At issue, were alleged economic conflicts in his former role as minister of labor, social affairs and social services.

The legislative assembly voted on two separate requests for immunity that Katz filed. In the first, Katz argued that he should be granted “substantive immunity” because his actions were part of his work as a parliament member and were carried out in “good faith.” Lawmakers granted his first request in a 62-43 vote with two abstentions.

Among the parliament members voting in favor of the request was Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Katz’ Likud right-wing political party.

The second request where Katz argued that the Knesset Ethics Committee had already censured him and “no public good was served by his prosecution,” was granted in a 63 to 42 vote with one abstention.

Prior to the vote, Katz told the assembly he was a “very honest man,” and “I don’t plan on lying today,” a statement said.

Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit has pressed for charges of fraud and breach of trust against Katz for allegedly promoting legislation for his own benefit while hiding conflicts of interest from parliamentary committees. In particular, conflicts were not disclosed to the Knesset Labor, Welfare and Health Committee and Knesset Ethics Committee.

Katz allegedly had a conflict of interest in his economic dealings with Equital’s Motti Ben Ari on several occasions and covered it up to obtain illegal economic gains for both of them, the indictment shows. He also allegedly supported a 2010 reform to the country’s insolvency laws to help Ari’s company, in which he has heavy investments.

Katz told the assembly that neither he nor Ari profited from the 2010 reform, but he made a mistake by not revealing his relationship with Ari before the vote.

The granted immunity will only be in place until next month’s election, and after that, if Mendelblit still wants him indicted, Katz will will have to request immunity from the new Knesset that will be sworn in on March 16.

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