Opposition MK: Corrupt bill to protect corrupt PM

Lawmakers advance bill barring police from recommending indictments

Kulanu party votes in favor of proposal following amendments that say any police conclusions on Netanyahu probes won’t be made public

Marissa Newman is The Times of Israel political correspondent.

Likud MK David Amsalem (right), chairman of the Interior Affairs Committee, leads a meeting  in the Knesset in Jerusalem, on November 8, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Likud MK David Amsalem (right), chairman of the Interior Affairs Committee, leads a meeting in the Knesset in Jerusalem, on November 8, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A Knesset panel on Monday approved a revised bill banning police, upon wrapping up an investigation into public officials, from informing prosecutors whether there are grounds for indictment, as well as publicizing information or leaking their conclusions to the media.

A last-minute change inserted in the legislation would permit the attorney general to seek police input in the existing corruption probes into Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, though, critically, he and police would be banned from publicizing those recommendations.

The proposed legislation cleared the Knesset’s Internal Affairs Committee with nine coalition lawmakers in favor and six opposition MKs opposed. It is expected to be brought to its first reading in the plenum later Monday afternoon.

The bill has widely been seen as an attempt by Likud lawmakers to shield Netanyahu from the public fallout should police find sufficient evidence to warrant criminal charges by prosecutors.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon attend the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on January 22, 2017. (Alex Kolomoisky/Pool)

Netanyahu is being investigated on allegations of accepting pricey gifts from billionaire benefactors and an alleged quid-pro-quo deal with a newspaper publisher, in two separate cases. The prime minister denies all the charges against him.

“I assume that in the case of the prime minister, the attorney general will ask and receive [a recommendation],” said Likud MK David Amsalem, the sponsor of the bill and the committee chairman.

The coalition Kulanu party voted in favor of the bill after two revisions were inserted into the legislation, one of which was the one that would allow police recommendations to be made in the Netanyahu investigations, though not to be published.

The second revision sets a one-year prison sentence for investigators who leak their conclusions to outside sources, which appears to extend to all cases. However, in the current and softened draft, whether to pursue charges against investigators is left up to the attorney general’s discretion. The proposal calls on the attorney general to publicize directives on the matter within 90 days.

The changes, said Amsalem during the heated committee meeting on Monday, were designed to prevent leaks while allowing police to do their job.

“I’m coming from the perspective of the leaks,” he said. The bill “will largely not allow anyone to leak anything from any case.”

According to the existing draft, which will be revised further before the second and third readings that would pass it into law, in future cases where a prosecutor is involved throughout the entire investigation — namely in investigations against public officials — no recommendations may be submitted in writing upon the conclusion of the probe.

In all other cases, recommendations on the evidence gathered may be issued in writing, though the police reports may not explicitly recommend whether to press charges against the suspects. Unlike the leaks, however, no prison sentence is outlined in the legislation in cases where police recommend to prosecutors whether to pursue an indictment in breach of the law. In those cases, the attorney general can choose whether to investigate.

In cases where police decide to close a case, they may detail their decision in writing, it stipulated.

“This is a corrupt bill to protect a corrupt prime minister,” charged Meretz MK Tamar Zandberg as the meeting came to a close with the vote on the proposal. The Kulanu party “caved,” she said.

The bill was approved by the committee following back-to-back morning meetings between Amsalem and coalition MKs who opposed the earlier draft. Those meetings in Amsalem’s office were attended by Netanyahu’s chief of staff, Yoav Horovitz, even as the prime minister has insisted he was not involved in the legislation.

Amsalem was pressed during the stormy committee meeting by Zionist Union MK Yael-Cohen Paran to explain what Horovitz was doing at the meetings.

“He was making schnitzel and cutting a salad,” he replied.

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