Lapid signals he won’t seek ouster of MK accused of Shin Bet leaks
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Lapid signals he won’t seek ouster of MK accused of Shin Bet leaks

During 1990s police probe into Aryeh Deri, ex-head of domestic security agency Yaakov Peri allegedly handed over intel on wiretaps to embattled interior minister

Marissa Newman is The Times of Israel political correspondent.

Yaakov Peri (left) and Yair Lapid at the Knesset (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Yaakov Peri (left) and Yair Lapid at the Knesset (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid over the weekend indicated he would not seek the ouster of party member MK Yaakov Peri, a former Shin Bet agency head, over an investigative TV report alleging the ex-security chief leaked sensitive information to Interior Minister Aryeh Deri about police wiretaps of his associates during a corruption investigation into the Shas leader two decades ago.

The “Uvda” report aired last Wednesday unearthed a report from a covert probe in 1995 that saw two of the three-person panel of investigators conclude that Peri — also a former science minister — was likely the source of the 1991 leaks to Deri, after the then-Shin Bet chief was found to be lying on a series of polygraph tests.

Peri, who conceded to having a “good relationship” with Deri at the time, has firmly denied the allegations.

Shas party leader Aryeh Deri (standing) seen speaking with then-science minister Yaakov Peri during a plenum session in the assembly hall of the Israeli parliament on July 29, 2013. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

Addressing the claims on Friday amid mounting calls for Peri to resign from the Knesset, Lapid said that in Yesh Atid, “an MK who is under investigation must go home until the matter is cleared up.”

“But this isn’t the case. There is no investigation here, there are no criminal or legal proceedings. When the dust settles on the headlines, what remains is an inadmissible polygraph from 23 years ago,” Lapid wrote on Facebook.

“It may raise questions, but doesn’t a man with so many merits like Peri get an opportunity to respond? Is this the new procedure? A TV show that acts as judge, jury and executioner?” added Lapid.

Speaking at an event in Nes Tziona on Saturday, Peri again denied the allegations.

“As part of my role as the head of the Shin Bet, Deri and I had an ongoing working relationship,” said Peri.

Deri, said Peri, would tell everyone who would listen about how he was being wronged in the bribery probe. “He never asked me to intervene [in the investigation against him] or requested anything from me on the topic, and I certainly never responded to his comments,” the Yesh Atid lawmaker said.

Peri had told Uvda: “I had an excellent relationship with Deri. Minister Deri was interior minister when I was the head of the agency. I would meet him in cabinet meetings. I liked him very much. There is no connection between that and what happened in the investigation.”

Aryeh Deri at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem, at a civilian sentencing on September 24, 2003. (Nati Shochat/Flash90)

The “Uvda” report examined confidential information obtained by a Deri aide, Moshe Weinberg, on how police wiretaps were approved by the Shin Bet and put into place by the Bezeq telecommunication company. Weinberg was also able to detail who was being recorded in the investigation into the interior minister, confounding the investigators.

“There is someone in the Shin Bet who tells,” Weinberg was recorded as telling a state witness, who was wearing a hidden mic affixed by police in a bid to incriminate Weinberg.

Recordings aired by the TV show also saw Deri quizzing Weinberg about the tapes and “when they would be ready.”

The TV report quoted investigators on the case saying they were “astounded” by the revelation and also found Weinberg’s information to be accurate.

“He [Weinberg] didn’t lie. He knew exactly who was being listened to,” a former investigator told “Uvda.” “We thought we must be dreaming.”

Fearing the leaks would overshadow the corruption probe into Deri, police ignored the information and locked away the tapes, according to “Uvda.”

But four years later, in 1995, the attorney general appointed three investigators to secretly probe the leaks, after the information came to light during the Deri trial.

As part of the internal investigation, the Shin Bet and police were asked to submit to a polygraph test.

Peri told “Uvda” he was was tested once, with the polygraph proving “inconclusive.”

But documents aired on the TV show indicated that Peri was grilled on a polygraph four times, and while some of the results were inconclusive, the Shin Bet chief found to be lying on numerous occasions.

According to the documents, Peri was found to be telling the truth when asked whether he handed over documents on the wiretaps, but was found to be lying when asked whether he gave over information on the recordings to an unauthorized figure.

In the fourth round of questioning, Peri was asked whether he inquired within the Shin Bet about wiretaps around Deri’s Jerusalem home. The Shin Bet chief denied it and was found to be lying. He was also determined to be lying when again asked whether he handed over information about the wiretaps, according to the TV show’s documents.

In their conclusions, the three investigators were split, with two maintaining there was a “real suspicion” against Peri that he leaked the information. The third, who was acquainted with the former Shin Bet chief before, exonerated Peri in his  minority opinion.

The panel of investigators also concluded the information was obtained as part of “active intelligence-gathering” by Deri and his confidants.

But the conclusions were overshadowed by the assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin in late 1995, and ultimately buried, the TV report said, with no further action pursued against Peri.

In his Facebook post, Lapid said he spoke to Peri after “belatedly” watching the “Uvda” report to ask him about the discrepancies between his account and the TV report.

“If someone would look at the last line on the polygraph test form,” Peri said, according to Lapid. “They would see that it says there: The results are inconclusive. This is what happens in about 15 percent of cases, and because of this polygraphs are not admissible in court. But who even looks at the last line in the form?”

In Israel, the results of a polygraph test are inadmissible in criminal court but in civil court they are fair game if the person being tested agrees to it in advance. Despite professional skepticism on their accuracy, the tests are also frequently used by Israeli suspects in a bid to absolve themselves of guilt, by employers, and more.

Lapid said Peri told him he didn’t remember how many tests there were, as it took place 23 years ago, and was caught off-guard by the “Uvda” reporters, who pulled him aside in a hallway.

Deri has not commented on the “Uvda” report.

Deri, who has returned to his post in the Interior Ministry and is currently being investigated on other corruption allegations, was sentenced to three years in prison in 2000 on bribery charges. He served two years of his sentence before his early release on good behavior.

Lapid’s Yesh Atid party has championed the fight against corruption as part of its political platform. The former finance minister has also been a strident critic of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Case 3000 (in which the prime minister is not a suspect) concerning the multi-million shekel purchase of submarines.

Netanyahu is facing two separate criminal investigations, known as Case 1000 and Case 2000. The prime minister has been questioned by police at least seven times since the probes began.

Case 1000 revolves around alleged illicit gifts given to Netanyahu and his family by billionaire benefactors, most notably from Israeli film producer Arnon Milchan. In Case 2000, Netanyahu is suspected of conducting a clandestine quid-pro-quo deal with Yedioth Ahronoth publisher and owner Arnon “Noni” Mozes, in which the prime minister was said to have promised Mozes he would hobble Yedioth’s main commercial rival, the freebie Israel Hayom, in exchange for more favorable coverage from Yedioth.

Netanyahu, who has denied wrongdoing in both cases and alluded to unfair treatment by police, has also condemned investigators for leaking details on the cases to the media.

Times of Israel staff and Simona Weinglass contributed to this report.

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