Police recommend formal charges against ex-IDF chief

Police recommend formal charges against ex-IDF chief

Special investigations unit says there's enough evidence to try Gabi Ashkenazi for breach of trust in corruption scandal

Former IDF chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi. (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Former IDF chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi. (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Police recommended Tuesday that former IDF chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi stand trial for his alleged involvement in a high-level corruption scandal between 2009 and 2011. After over a year of investigating, special investigative unit Lahav 433 determined that there was enough evidence to charge Ashkenazi with breach of trust and delivering classified information to journalists.

However, Ashkenazi and his associates were cleared of any involvement in forging a document leaked to the press by a former officer and Ashkenazi family friend, which defamed a candidate to succeed Ashkenazi.

The director of the police’s investigative and intelligence department added that even while some of Ashkenazi’s actions did not cross the threshold of criminality, they did “raise questions concerning the conduct of a public official, especially one who is in charge of the state’s security, in regard to the norms of conduct expected from such officials.”

Materials and findings from the investigations will be turned over in the coming days to the Tel Aviv district attorney’s office for review, and recommendations will be submitted to the state prosecutors and attorney general, the director said, according to Israeli news source NRG.

Police also said they found enough evidence to indict former Israel Defense Forces spokesman Avi Benayahu; Ashkenazi’s personal aide, Col. (res.) Erez Weiner; former officer Boaz Harpaz; and cabinet secretary Avichai Mandelblit, who served as the military prosecutor when the so-called Harpaz affair came to light.

In addition, Channel 2 reported Sunday, police will recommend disciplinary action against Director of Security for the Defense Establishment Amir Kane.

The police were said to have incriminating evidence — namely recordings of conversations — against Ashkenazi, which could lead to charges of breach of trust, obstruction of an investigation, and providing unauthorized information in the affair. Several of those tapes show Ashkenazi sharing military secrets with reporters, information which could have put soldiers at risk.

In January 2013, Israel’s comptroller issued a scathing report stemming from a state investigation into Ashkenazi’s relationship with former defense minister Ehud Barak that delayed over 150 senior IDF appointments, impacted the process by which Ashkenazi’s successor was chosen, and preoccupied both the chief of staff’s office and that of the defense minister for well over a year — a period that included Israel’s Operation Cast Lead assault on Hamas in Gaza and the escalating effort to grapple with Iran’s nuclear program.

The crux of the dispute revolved around a mid-2010 attempt to influence the appointment of the successor to Lt. Gen. Ashkenazi.

As chief of the General Staff from February 2007 to February 2011, Ashkenazi was found by the report to have acted in “a manner unworthy” of a senior officer in his collaboration with Harpaz, who sought to besmirch Barak.

“The matter is especially grave,” State Comptroller Yosef Shapira wrote, “in light of the fact that minister Barak is of the legislative branch, to which the chief of the General Staff is directly subordinate.”

Weiner, who was the primary point of contact to Harpaz, was also found to have acted in a manner unbecoming to a senior IDF officer, an ongoing comportment that revealed “a mistaken understanding on his part of the boundaries between the permissible and the impermissible.”

The investigation into the affair was sparked by a document released to the press by Harpaz, which was purported to detail a plan by Brig. Gen. Yoav Galant, a candidate to succeed Ashkenazi, to gain the nomination and smear Ashkenazi. First revealed on Channel 2 News on August 6, 2010, the police found within days that the author of the document was Harpaz, “a family friend,” by his own admission, of Gabi Ashkenazi and his wife, Ronit.

In March 2014, police arrested Weiner and Benayahu, who were both described to the courts as “a danger to public security.”

Harpaz was sent to 10 days of house arrest after he was interrogated by police for several hours.

According to police, all three are suspected of committing theft, obstruction of justice, destruction of evidence, fraud, and breach of trust, and conspiracy.

Police said that Harpaz, Weiner and Benayahu had all illegally collected and secretly distributed materials aimed at defaming IDF officials, as well as senior politicians. The three are suspected of conspiring to stymie the nomination of Galant to succeed Ashkenazi as chief of the IDF General Staff.

The police added that Benayahu and Weiner had illegally held classified and confidential documents.

For his part, Benayahu said he had been involved in the affair “not of his own will,” as he had only been a mediator between Ashkenazi and senior politicians.

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