Supreme Court head laments 'difficult' day for judiciary

Minister urges criminal probe into texting scandal, review of Case 4000 rulings

Attorney and judge in Bezeq affair removed from case, now under disciplinary investigation; coalition chief Amsalem claims evidence of putsch against Netanyahu

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan at a Likud party conference in Lod on December 31, 2017. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan at a Likud party conference in Lod on December 31, 2017. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan on Monday called for a criminal investigation to be opened into the leaked text messages between a public prosecutor and the judge presiding over the Bezeq corruption case that appears to show the two coordinating remand rulings before hearings were even held.

“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.

“Its worth considering opening a criminal investigation,” he added. “This is a serious incident, and it’s pretty clear that their careers are over. Who will believe them now?” he said.

In a WhatsApp chat obtained by Channel 10 news, Israel Securities Authority lawyer Eran Shacham-Shavit tells Judge Ronit Poznansky-Katz on Sunday that the prosecution would seek the release of some suspects but not others.

Israel Securities Authority investigator Eran Shacham-Shavit (YouTube screenshot)

“Try and act surprised” in the courtroom, Shacham-Shavit writes.

“I’m practicing my surprised face,” Poznansky-Katz responds.

In another chat, Shacham-Shavit writes that regarding the suspects “[Bezeq CEO] Stella [Handler] and Iris [Elovitch, Shaul’s wife], we will ask for a few more days tomorrow. They will request three days, but you can definitely, definitely give two days.”

“You’re continuing to reveal everything to me and I’ll have to act really, really surprised,” Poznansky-Katz responds, apparently jokingly.

Judge Ronit Poznansky-Katz. (Judiciary of Israel)

The conversation took place before the suspects’ remand hearings in the so-called Case 4000, where they were ostensibly given an opportunity to make their case before the judge decided whether they can be released from custody and under what conditions.

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.

Supreme Court Chief Justice Esther Hayut at a hearing at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem on January 14, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Following publication of the chat, Supreme Court Chief Justice Esther Hayut and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked ordered a formal inquiry into Poznansky-Katz’s behavior.

In a public letter Monday, Hayut said the incident marked “a difficult morning for us all,” and said she had ordered the inquiry into the messages completed without delay. She urged her colleagues to do their work professionally and to do their utmost to “preserve public trust in our court system.”

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.

Shaul, Iris and Or Elovitch, Handler, Hefetz and Eli Kamir were due to appear in court Monday morning to appeal their remand to the alternate judge at the Tel Aviv court.

Erdan, however, said that all previous rulings in Case 4000 “now need to be reviewed.”

Coalition chairman MK David Amsalem told Army Radio Monday that the incident was proof of the “obsessive” way in which legal authorities are pursuing criminal charges against Netanyahu.

“This is not a new problem and this will not end with this judge,” he said. “In the last two years, the police have been engaged in an obsessive, even sick chase after the prime minister in order to bring him down. And now look what is happening.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and MK David Amsalem during a Likud party faction meeting at the Knesset on January 8, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The leaked messages drew widespread condemnation from all sides of the political spectrum.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman called for Poznansky-Katz to be suspended immediately. “We must not allow the public to lose trust in the court system,” he tweeted.

Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid on Monday called the incident “appalling” and said it showed “contempt of court and contempt toward the public.”

Labor party leader Avi Gabbay said “a judge who coordinates arrests with a prosecutor has no place in a courtroom,” but added it did nothing to mitigate the suspicions against Netanyahu, which “no conduct by a judge — disgraceful as it may be — can take away.”

The Case 4000 investigation has gathered steam in the past week, following the arrest of a number of high-profile aides to Netanyahu and executives at Bezeq.

Shlomo Filber, the suspended director-general of the Communications Ministry and a longtime Netanyahu confidant, signed a deal last week to turn state’s witness and possibly incriminate the prime minister in the affair. Filber had his remand extended on Wednesday by 15 days while police continue to question him.

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