Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked lamented an explosive sex scandal that has roiled the judicial system and cast a shadow over a judicial appointments panel she co-chairs.
A top Israeli attorney was arrested earlier in the day on suspicion of advancing the appointment of judges in exchange for sex in a corruption investigation that has shaken the legal system.
Israel Bar Association head Effi Naveh reportedly expected to take a leave of absence over the scandal.
The main suspect cannot be named, and many details about the case have been placed under gag order by a judge.
“This is a rough day for me as justice minister and as a woman,” Shaked said at a conference in Tel Aviv on women in business.
The main suspect has been questioned at the police’s Lahav 433 anti-fraud unit for allegedly nominating a female judge to a magistrate’s court several years ago, reportedly in exchange for sex.
He is also suspected of having sexual relations with the wife of another judge, for the purpose of helping her husband advance from a magistrate’s court to a district court position — though the promotion never occurred.
Shaked and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Esther Hayut — both members of the nine-member Judicial Selection Committee — will be summoned to give testimony, as will the rest of the committee, which appoints judges in Israel courts, Hebrew-language media reported.
At the conference, Shaked said she had yet to receive a summons to appear before investigators.
She declined to elaborate on the case, citing the gag order, but said she fully trusted authorities to conduct a thorough investigation.
“We are sure the the law enforcement system will complete the investigation and discover the truth,” Shaked and Hayut said earlier in a joint statement. “We hope the investigation will be completed soon in order to safeguard the status of the judiciary and public trust in it.”
Shaked faced strong criticism from opposition lawmakers after the case was made public earlier in the day.
Opposition leader Shelly Yachimovich said the Judicial Selection Committee “operated under terror and corruption, under the destructive leadership of Justice Minister Shaked. The corrupt environment and immoral alliances she created are the basis for the shocking case revealed today.”
“The judges who are committee members were forced to operate in a polluted and threatening environment,” Yachimovich added. “They should now raise the alarm and save the legal system from severe harm, because unfortunately there will be a cloud of doubt over all the hundreds of judges appointed during Shaked’s term, even the worthy ones.”
Labor MK Leah Fadida called on Shaked to resign, saying “her moral compass was revealed to be distorted, both as justice minister and as a woman. The status of women has been set back 20 years. The corrupted system of appointments is the big story in this affair.”
Two other suspects were questioned on Wednesday, a female magistrate’s court judge and a female lawyer, police said earlier, clearing for publication some details of the case which is mainly under gag order. Hebrew-language media said the latter was married to a judge.
The investigation was reportedly opened after veteran Army Radio journalist Hadas Shteif provided information to police on the case. The case, further details of which are gagged under a court order, has become the talk of the town within the judicial system in recent weeks.
The Israel Bar Association offices in Jerusalem were raided Wednesday by police and closed to the public, the Ynet news site reported. Witnesses were summoned for questioning and documents and computer files were collected, police said in a statement.
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit reportedly won’t oversee the investigation as he is a close friend of the central suspect. Instead, State Attorney Shai Nitzan will oversee it along with his deputy.
Nitzan — whose approval is necessary to arrest an official such as the central suspect — personally authorized the arrests and questioning.
Senior officials in the legal system were said to be increasingly worried by the developments in the case, which has spawned many rumors and mostly false social media conspiracy theories.
Meanwhile, three allies of Bar Association head Naveh announced their resignation Tuesday, saying they can no longer serve under his leadership, the Calcalist newspaper reported.
On Wednesday, Naveh was reported to be planning to take a leave of absence.
Naveh was indicted last month on suspicion that he smuggled a female acquaintance out of the country for a trip abroad and then tried to slip her back unregistered through border control. Naveh was charged with jointly gaining illegal exit and entry to the country as well as jointly taking a bribe.