Netanyahu questions objectivity of his police graft probe

Prime minister says claim by police chief that private investigators were hired to shadow case officers casts doubt on purity of entire investigation

Israel Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich, seen with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at a welcoming ceremony for his appointment, held at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, on December 3, 2015. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Israel Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich, seen with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at a welcoming ceremony for his appointment, held at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, on December 3, 2015. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday said that police officers investigating him for alleged corruption could not possibly be unbiased after the police chief charged they had been followed and put under pressure.

In a post to his Facebook page Netanyahu questioned how the police investigators could remain impartial if they believe that the person they are probing was surreptitiously targeting them. Netanyahu has denied being behind the pressure on the investigators in any way.

This comes after claims were made by Israel Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich, who said in a television interview that private investigators were hired to tail his officers as they worked on two graft investigations against Netanyahu.

Later Thursday Hebrew-language media quoted a police source as saying that a “Europe-based figure with close ties to Netanyahu” was behind the attempts to collect information on the officers. They offered no further clues to the identity of the person.

In a rare interview on the cases to Hadashot news’s investigative program “Uvda,” Alsheich claimed that “powerful figures” had hired private investigators to collect information about the police investigators in the Netanyahu cases, apparently to personally discredit them should they recommend indictments.

With police reportedly preparing to publish in their conclusions from the graft investigations a recommendation that Netanyau be indicted, the prime minister stressed that his comments were “not at all a personal attack, not on the commissioner, and not on anyone else.”

“The claims that were heard are serious and they should keep any rational person awake at night,” Netanyahu wrote. “The truth needs to be investigated and immediately.”

“Imagine how you would feel if police investigators who are carrying out an investigation against you would claim that you used private investigators against them and their families. Can investigators who think the subject of their investigation is shadowing them, or sent a woman to complain about sexual harassment against the head of their unit, can they do their work objectively? And what does that say about their recommendations?” Netanyahu asked.

Head of the Lahav 433 police anti-corruption unit, Roni Rittman, arrives at the Police Investigation Department, Jerusalem, December, 2015. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

The prime minister was referring to the recent resignation of Maj. Gen. Roni Rittman, head of the Lahav 433, the police anti-corruption unit who had faced allegations of sexual harassment in 2015, dating back to 2011. No indictment was ever filed against Rittman due to “evidentiary issues.” However, months ago the High Court of Justice slammed his role as head of the unit.

During the “Uvda” interview, Alsheich was asked if Rittman was one of the officers allegedly followed by the private investigators, but he responded that “it’s more about others.”

“The real question is purity of investigation,” Netanyahu wrote. “And the only way to clarify that is with an objective, independent, and quick investigation [into the private eye claims]. We didn’t arrange the interview with ‘Uvda,’ we didn’t put words into the mouth of anyone, and it wasn’t us who chose the timing of the interview, close to the publication of the [police] recommendations. Uncovering the truth, and adherence to purity of the investigation, don’t weaken the Israel Police. To the contrary, they only strengthen it and the rule of law.”

On Tuesday, a report by Hadashot TV said police are set to recommend pressing bribery charges against Netanyahu next week. Hebrew-language media reported the following day that senior police officials are in unanimous agreement on the matter, and that a “final” discussion on the investigation had been held. Once the recommendations are filed, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit must decide whether an indictment is warranted.

In response to the reports, Netanyahu published a video message on his Facebook page late Wednesday, acknowledging there would be likely be recommendations for indictment, while noting that police recommendations are often dropped by prosecutors.

During the television interview Alsheich rebuffed as “untrue” Netanyahu’s claim that most police recommendations are eventually trashed.

He also said Netanyahu vowed to appoint him as Shin Bet chief at the end of his police stint if Netanyahu remains prime minister. Alsheich formerly served as deputy director of the domestic security agency.

In his first response to the interview on Wednesday evening, Netanyahu said it was “shocking” that Alsheich would double down on the “false and outrageous suggestion that the prime minister has sent private investigators against the police officers who are investigating him.”

Alsheich’s insinuation is “so grave” that it warrants its own “objective investigation” on the police handling of the cases, added Netanyahu.

The headquarters of the Israel Police’s Lahav 433 anti-corruption unit in Lod. (Flash90)

Netanyahu is being investigated in two corruption cases.

In so-called Case 1000, Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, are suspected of receiving illicit gifts from billionaire benefactors, most notably hundreds of thousands of shekels’ worth of cigars and champagne from the Israeli-born Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan.

Case 2000 involves a suspected illicit quid-pro-quo deal between Netanyahu and Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper publisher Arnon Mozes that would have seen the prime minister weaken a rival daily, the Sheldon Adelson-backed Israel Hayom, in return for more favorable coverage from Yedioth.

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