Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked on Wednesday accepted the recommendation of the state ombudsman and initiated disciplinary action against a judge presiding over the Bezeq corruption probe who appeared to have coordinated with a state prosecutor.
In a joint statement, Shaked and Supreme Court President Esther Hayut said an official complaint against Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court Judge Ronit Poznansky-Katz would be filed to the Supreme Court, and a special tribunal would be established to impose disciplinary measures against her.
The statement said the measures could range from an official reprimand to dismissal. Poznansky-Katz has been relieved of her duties until the disciplinary proceedings are over.
On Tuesday, ombudsman Judge Eliezer Rivlin ruled that no criminal charges should be filed against Poznansky-Katz, recommending she face a disciplinary hearing instead.
Rivlin said her correspondence with Israel Securities Authority attorney Eran Shacham-Shavit regarding the suspects in the Bezeq probe was “highly inappropriate,” but did not find evidence she had engaged in collusion warranting a criminal investigation.
“The relationship between judge and the investigator, which began with logistical arrangements, deteriorated into improper dialogue,” he wrote in his ruling, noting that her actions “damaged the public trust in the judicial system.”
According to a WhatsApp chat obtained by Channel 10 news on Sunday, Shacham-Shavit told Poznansky-Katz that authorities intended to release some of the suspects in the probe, while holding others for a few more days.
“Try and act surprised,” he writes.
“I’m practicing my surprised face,” she responds before apparently agreeing to the request.
A full transcript of the messages released on Monday appeared to be less damning than initially reported — when only a snippet was available — showing that judge Poznansky-Katz and Shacham-Shavit were mainly discussing case logistics.
The so-called Case 4000 corruption investigation gained traction this week after the ISA for the first time named Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as one of the people believed to have been involved in bribery as part of an illicit deal with the communications giant Bezeq.
Speaking at a hearing in which Shaul Elovitch and Nir Hefetz — the majority shareholder of Bezeq and a former media adviser for the prime minister, respectively — appealed their continued detention in the case, state prosecutor Yehudit Tirosh of the ISA said that in his role as communications minister, Netanyahu was at the center of “a very grave instance of giving and taking bribes.”
The case involves suspicions that Elovitch ordered the Walla news site, which he owns, to grant positive coverage to Netanyahu and his family in exchange for the prime minister advancing regulations benefiting Elovitch.
Netanyahu served as communications minister from November 2014 to February 2017. During that time, Walla’s coverage notably changed to favor the Netanyahu family, and Bezeq was given permission, among other things, to buy the satellite cable provider Yes, overriding antitrust issues, and to renege on its commitment to lease out its infrastructure to telecom competitors so they could provide competing fixed line and internet services.
Suspended Communications Ministry director Shlomo Filber, who turned state witness last week and is expected to provide information possibly incriminating Netanyahu in the probe.
Netanyahu is expected to be questioned in Case 4000, on Friday, possibly even under caution as a criminal suspect, a source familiar with the investigation told The Times of Israel earlier this week.