Law enforcement said to have covered up conflicts of interest in Netanyahu probe
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Law enforcement said to have covered up conflicts of interest in Netanyahu probe

PM calls report ‘shocking’ and an ‘atom bomb’ that proves the corruption cases against him are a conspiracy, right-wing lawmakers call for investigations into allegations

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a statement before entering a courtroom at the Jerusalem District Court on May 24, 2020, for the start of his corruption trial. Among those alongside him from left are Likud MKs and ministers Gadi Yevarkan, Amir Ohana, Miri Regev, Nir Barkat, Israel Katz, Tzachi Hanegbi, Yoav Gallant and David Amsalem (Yonathan SINDEL / POOL / AFP)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a statement before entering a courtroom at the Jerusalem District Court on May 24, 2020, for the start of his corruption trial. Among those alongside him from left are Likud MKs and ministers Gadi Yevarkan, Amir Ohana, Miri Regev, Nir Barkat, Israel Katz, Tzachi Hanegbi, Yoav Gallant and David Amsalem (Yonathan SINDEL / POOL / AFP)

Senior law enforcement officials have filed a complaint with the state comptroller in recent days alleging that senior police officers and the state prosecutor engaged in a wide-spread cover up of a serious conflict of interest by one of the investigators into Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, in order not to derail the corruption investigations into the premier, Channel 12 reported Monday.

Netanyahu called the news report “shocking” and an “atom bomb” that proved the corruption cases against him were a conspiracy. Senior Likud officials called for an investigation into the charges.

The officials allege that Superintendent Avi Rotenberg, the chief investigator into the allegations Sara Netanyahu misspent public funds for her personal benefit, did not disclose to his superiors in 2016 that he was in an extramarital relationship with Judy Nir-Mozes. Mozes is the sister of Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Arnon Mozes, who has been charged together with the prime minister on allegations that they attempted an illegal quid-pro-quo deal, in one of the three cases against the premier.

Nir-Mozes, the ex-wife of former foreign minister Silvan Shalom, a one-time rival of Netanyahu within the Likud party, is a media personality and talk show host who has been a frequent and harsh critic of Sara Netanyahu. Nir-Mozes is also a stake-holder in Yedioth.

Israeli socialite, investor and talk show host, Judy Nir-Mozes (L), and Israeli journalist and Channel 20 news anchor, Shimon Riklin, participate in a pannel, on November 11, 2019. (Moshe Shai/Flash90)

In June 2019, Sara Netanyahu was convicted of misusing public funds as part of a plea deal in a case involving allegations she illegally procured and then misreported catering services at the Prime Minister’s Residence.

The agreement saw her escape a conviction for aggravated fraud, but plead guilty to a lesser charge of taking advantage of a mistake. She was ordered to pay NIS 55,000 ($15,210) to the state — NIS 10,000 as a fine and the rest as restitution.

The TV report showed internal police documents purportedly revealing that when confronted about rumors of his relationship, Rotenberg denied them and said there was no conflict of interest.

As a consequence, Channel 12 reported, Rotenberg was also privy to details about the investigation into so-called Case 2000.

That case, one of the three in which the prime minister has been charged, involves accusations Netanyahu agreed with Mozes to weaken the circulation of a rival daily in return for more favorable coverage from Yedioth, Netanyahu was charged with fraud and breach of trust, while Mozes faces bribery charges.

Arnon Mozes arrives at the Jerusalem District Court on May 24, 2020. (Amit Shabi/Pool/Flash90)

Netanyahu has denied accusations in all three cases, which also include a bribery charge over another media deal, alleging he is a victim of a conspiracy by the press, law enforcement and the legal system to unseat him.

The TV report said Roni Rittman, who led the Lahav 443 anti-corruption unit, eventually learned of Rotenberg’s relationship with Nir-Mozes, but failed to report it to the Justice Ministry’s Police Internal Investigations Department, or PIID.

Instead, Rittman decided to handle the issue “discretely,” and suggested that Rotenberg move to a different position.

The connection was only relayed to PIID — which investigates alleged wrongdoing by police officers — after Rotenberg’s wife approached the police and warned she would go public with the information.

The Justice Ministry unit was “horrified” by the nature of the information and called for the failure to be investigated, according to Channel 12.

PIID investigators wrote that Rotenberg “was aware of the personal interest of Nir-Mozes in the outcome of the investigation and the way it was handled, including the close relationship between her and her brother.”

“The suspect positioned himself in clear conflict of interest,” they wrote.

State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan speaks at the annual Justice Conference in Airport City, outside Tel Aviv on September 3, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

However, then-state prosecutor Shai Nitzan let the case sit, with prosecutors later concluding that despite the connection, there was no reason to investigate Rotenberg, since there was no indication he worked to benefit Nir-Mozes during the course of the investigation, the TV report said.

The TV report claimed the PIID was prevented from probing the allegations over fears that the information would leak and provide Netanyahu with powerful ammunition in his public campaign to paint the investigations as a conspiracy against him.

In 2018, the head of the PIID was replaced and months later the case was closed, due to both Rotenberg and Rittman leaving the police.

All those accused in the Channel 12 report denied the allegations.

Rotenberg, who is now a lawyer in a private firm, said in response: “There was no connection between my acquaintance with Judy Nir-Mozes and the way the [Case 2000] investigation was handled — without any agenda,” noting that one officer does not guide the direction of a case by himself.

He also said he was never exposed to the materials of Case 2000, namely recordings of Netanyahu and Mozes.

The State Prosecutor’s Office in its own response to the report called the allegations “baseless lies,” saying all decisions were made according to evidence available and in accordance with the law.

“Efforts to connect these decisions to the cases against the prime minister are ridiculous and conspiratorial,” the statement said.

Netanyahu, however, said the report validated his long standing claims of a conspiracy targeting him and his wife.

“Shocking! (Channel 12 reporter) Amit Segal has dropped an atomic bomb that proves with correspondence between the police and the prosecutors: this is how they framed Prime Minister Netanyahu, with criminal actions and by subverting the investigations,” Netanyahu wrote in a social media post sharing the Channel 12 story. “Share the truth.”

Senior Likud and right wing officials, including newly appointed Internal Security Minister Amir Ohana, called for an investigation into the police and prosecution over the claims made in the report.

In a further example of the police’s reportedly questionable handling of the fallout surrounding its probes into the premier, Channel 12 also revealed Monday that the state prosecutor prevented an investigation into former police chief Roni Alsheich, fearing that this too could undermine the Netanyahu investigations.

Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich (left) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a welcoming ceremony for Alsheich at the start of his term, at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, December 3, 2015. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Following the 2017 cop killing of an unarmed Bedouin man, Alsheich reportedly leaked to several news outlets false information claiming that the PIID was hiding evidence proving that the victim had ties to terror groups.

The head of the PIID at the time Uri Carmel sent a letter to Nitzan expressing his outrage over Alsheich’s conduct. The then-state prosecutor responded in an email leaked to Channel 12 that while he too was disturbed by the “scandalous” actions of the police chief, “there are national interests that also must be taken into consideration,” he said, referencing the ongoing attacks against the law enforcement system led by Netanyahu and his supporters, to which Nitzan did not want to provide more ammunition.

Channel 12 reached out to Nitzan for comment, without mentioning that it had the email in question in its possession. The former state prosecutor said allegations that he prevented the publication of Alsheich’s false claims were “false lies.”

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