AG asks High Court to halt work of panel probing internal police investigations

Mandelblit argues establishing committee just before elections raises concerns it’s for ‘outside considerations’; top prosecutor dismisses claim he said AG slowed Gantz firm probe

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit attends an event at the Dan Hotel in Jerusalem, on February 6, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit attends an event at the Dan Hotel in Jerusalem, on February 6, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit on Friday called for an immediate halt to the work of a committee to probe the police internal investigations unit, whose establishment by the cabinet he opposed.

In a letter to the High Court of Justice, which is hearing petitions against the formation of the committee, Mandelblit noted the government’s creation of the panel shortly before the March 2 general elections.

“The decision to establish the investigative committee only three weeks before the date of the elections raises a very real concern that the current timing of the decision was motivated by outside considerations that relate to running in the upcoming elections,” the letter said.

Mandelblit said the court should order an injunction to halt the committee’s work, arguing that the High Court was likely to accept the appeals and that the panel’s establishment was not urgent.

He also criticized how the committee’s members were nominated.

“The members of the committee were put forward without the involvement of the relevant professional figure. Similarly, this fact projects on the context of the committee’s establishment,” the Kan public broadcaster quoted him as saying.

Illustrative: The High Court of Justice in session. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The establishment of the committee to probe the Police Internal Investigations Department, a division of the Justice Ministry that conducts investigations of alleged misdeeds by the police, had been a key demand of former Blue and White MK Gadi Yevarkan, who jumped ship to Likud just hours before the deadline for registering party slates on January 15.

It was brought to the cabinet by Justice Minister Amir Ohana, a Likud member and ally of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Mandelblit had said the move could amount to “election bribery,” a crime under article 122 of the Elections Law, which prohibits offering direct benefits to individuals to affect their vote or to influence them to influence others.

Likud sought to woo Yevarkan, a member of the Ethiopian Jewish community, in order to stump for votes from Ethiopian Jews, who had turned their backs on the ruling party in last year’s elections following a series of high-profile incidents of police violence and amid ongoing concerns over government neglect and discrimination toward the community.

New Likud member Gadi Yevarkan, formerly of the Blue and White party, arrives for a Likud campaign event at the International Convention Center in Jerusalem, January 21, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Yevarkan demanded an investigation into the internal investigations department over what many Ethiopian Israelis say is its overly lenient handling of cases of police violence toward Ethiopian Israelis, in particular following the killing of Solomon Tekah, 19, by an off-duty officer last June.

Prosecutors believe the committee won’t be asked to investigate cases of police clashes with Ethiopian Israelis, however, but rather to launch an inquiry into Netanyahu’s claims that three corruption cases against him are an “attempted coup” by the police and state prosecution, a claim that has become central to Likud’s election campaign ahead of the March 2 vote.

While Mandelblit has not opposed the establishment of the committee in principle, he has warned that doing so under an interim, unelected government ahead of elections may be illegal.

Acting prosecutor says no row with Mandelblit

Also Friday, Acting State Attorney Dan Eldad dismissed reports quoting unnamed associates of his alleging that Mandelblit slow-walked opening a criminal investigation into a failed cybersecurity firm once headed by Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz for political reasons.

“These things were never said by Eldad, neither on his behalf nor his opinion, and they do not at all express his view,” a statement from Eldad said.

The statement dismissed the reports as “false” and stressed Eldad had good ties with Mandelblit.

“The acting state attorney feels that he and the attorney general are working with trust and mutual admiration and are determined to work together for the state, the rule on law in it and the independence of the [law] enforcement system,” it said.

Acting State Attorney Dan Eldad (State Prosecution website portrait)

Eldad on Thursday announced a criminal probe into Fifth Dimension, which was led by Gantz before it went bankrupt. A statement from Mandelblit indicated Gantz is not a suspect in the case.

Law enforcement and state prosecution officials leveled strong criticism at Eldad over the decision, with one unnamed official calling the acting state attorney a “Trojan horse” and another saying he was a lackey of the ruling Likud party.

Blue and White officials accused Eldad and Ohana of leaking reports of the investigation before it became public, according to Channel 12. Ohana recently appointed Eldad to the position in a move that angered other top justice officials and was initially opposed by Mandelblit.

The Haaretz daily reported that prosecution officials had been surprised by Eldad’s decision, its timing mere days before a national election and the swiftness in which it was made. They said he’d only learned the details of the case this past week.

Haaretz also claimed Mandelblit had been critical of the decision in closed conversations.

Mandelblit’s office on Thursday gave the green light to Eldad to proceed as he saw fit in the probe into the company, but said that Mandelblit himself was not involved in the case. The statement implied that Gantz was not considered a potential suspect, as Mandelblit would have to be involved in the case if he were.

Blue and White party letter Benny Gantz speaks during a conference in Tel Aviv on February 20, 2020. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

After retiring from the army, Gantz headed Fifth Dimension, a cybersecurity company that entered talks with police over the sale of its product. According to the state comptroller, a governmental watchdog, the police may have violated acquisition laws by forgoing a tender in its dealings with the company.

Gantz denied any wrongdoing after media reports Wednesday said a probe would be launched into the affair.

While Gantz has not been named as a suspect in the affair, the development comes less than two weeks before national elections and during a campaign by Gantz’s party that has tried to focus attention on Netanyahu’s indictment for corruption charges.

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