Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked on Monday vowed that a judge in the Bezeq corruption case would be dismissed if allegations of her colluding with an investigator were corroborated by legal authorities probing the incident.
In a WhatsApp chat obtained by Channel 10 news, Eran Shacham-Shavit, the legal adviser to the Israel Securities Authority, told Judge Ronit Poznansky-Katz on Sunday that the prosecution would seek the release of some suspects but not others.
“Try and act surprised” in the courtroom, Shacham-Shavit writes.
“I’m practicing my surprised face,” Poznansky-Katz responds.
The conversation took place before the suspects’ remand hearings in the so-called Case 4000, where they were ostensibly to be given an opportunity to make their case before the judge decided whether they can be released from custody and under what conditions.
Shaked on Monday said both Shacham-Shavit and Poznansky-Katz were questioned separately by judiciary disciplinary investigators over the TV report. The formal inquiry’s conclusions were expected to be handed down in a report on Monday night or Tuesday, she said.
If they find the Channel 10 report on the coordination to be true, Poznansky-Katz “won’t remain a judge,” said the justice minister. “If necessary I will convene the judicial appointments committee and we will exercise our powers of impeachment.”
Shacham-Shavit defended the correspondence at a disciplinary hearing, saying it constituted standard procedure for a pretrial hearing.
In the meantime, Poznansky-Katz was removed from planned hearings in the case on Monday, with the president of the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court saying that she had been put on immediate leave and would not take part in any further court deliberations until the inquiry was completed. Shacham-Shavit was also removed from the case and placed on leave, and the Israel Securities Authority vowed to investigate his actions.
Shaked further said that it was up to the discretion of Attorney General Avichai Mandeblit whether to pursue a criminal investigation into the pair.
Also Monday, Labor party chairman Avi Gabbay called the allegations of coordination “serious,” but argued they should not divert attention from the police recommendations to indict Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“A judge who coordinates remand extensions cannot extend the remand of a single other person, just as a prime minister with [police] recommendations [that he stand trial] for bribery cannot continue in his position,” said Gabbay at the weekly Zionist Union faction meeting.
Gabbay said the Channel 10 report on the alleged collusion “caused serious damage to the holy of holies, the rule of law.”
“But let us not be misled. Even on a day like this in which we are looking at the jaw-dropping texts [between the judge and investigator], we cannot forget what the main issue is,” he said, referring to the allegations against the prime minister.
Police have recommended Netanyahu be tried for fraud, breach of trust, and bribery in a pair of cases known as Case 1000 and Case 2000. The prime minister has not been designated a suspect by police in two other cases, Case 3000, relating to the purchase of naval submarines from Germany, and Case 4000. Netanyahu will be questioned by police on Friday over the latter two cases, though it remained unclear whether he would be declared a suspect.
Case 4000 involves suspicions that the chairman and controlling shareholder of the telecommunications giant Bezeq, Shaul Elovitch, ordered the Walla news site, which he owns, to grant positive coverage to Netanyahu and his family, in exchange for the prime minister allegedly advancing regulations benefiting Bezeq and Elovitch.
Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid, speaking at his own faction meeting, urged Netanyahu to appoint a deputy amid the criminal investigations against him.
“There is one thing the prime minister must do if he is to retain even a semblance of national responsibility: appoint himself a permanent replacement,” said Lapid. “I call on the prime minister to appoint himself a permanent deputy from among the Likud members.
“In the coming months, the prime minister will be very busy with his investigations,” Lapid added. “His schedule will not be only up to him. To ensure the state continues to fully function, someone must be beside him who knows the system: a security cabinet member who can work with the various security agencies, the National Security Council, and the National Economic Council.”
Earlier on Monday, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan on Monday called for a criminal investigation to be opened into the exchange between Poznansky-Katz and Shacham-Shavit.
“When you see a judge coordinating her rulings with the prosecution, it’s really a shocking thing, and in my opinion a criminal offense,” Erdan told Army Radio in an interview.
“It’s worth considering opening a criminal investigation,” he said, adding that all court materials in the case needed to be reviewed.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.