Israel Police came under severe criticism over the weekend after it was revealed that Bezeq controlling shareholder Shaul Elovitch had been pressured to turn state witness against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by having his son try to convince him to fire his lawyer.
The Israel Bar Association chief called on the attorney general to open an investigation into the matter, which was exposed following another report that detailed the intense pressure and misdirection employed by police to secure state witness deals that did go ahead with close Netanyahu associates Nir Hefetz and Ari Harow.
Elovitch had been detained as part of Case 4000, seen as the most serious of the three criminal cases pending against Netanyahu, in which the prime minister is suspected of offering regulatory benefits to Elovitch, in exchange for positive coverage of him and his family in the Elovitch-owned Walla news site.
Netanyahu faces bribery charges in the case, pending a hearing, as does Elovitch, who did not eventually sign a state witness deal. Netanyahu faces fraud and breach of trust charges in two other cases, known as Case 1000 and Case 2000, also pending a hearing which will be held on October 2-3.
Elovitch was held in custody twice since the Case 4000 investigation began several years ago and on at least one of those occasions was at a detention facility that had a room designated for detainees to speak freely with their attorneys, without police listening in, Channel 12 reported Friday evening. However, bugs were installed in that room as Elovitch’s son was sent in as a police tactic in the effort to reach a state witness deal.
Police investigators had believed attorney Jack Chen — who provided legal advice to Netanyahu in two other cases against him, known as Cases 1000 and 2000 — was preventing Elovitch from agreeing to testify against the premier and turning state witness, according to the report.
They decided to use his son, Or Elovitch — who was also detained by police on suspicion of being involved in the case — in an attempt to get him to switch lawyers. In a recording from the room designated for detainees to meet their lawyers, an investigator could be heard speaking with the young Elovitch before the father entered.
“I don’t want him to interpret this as me collaborating with you,” Or Elovitch tells the investigator. “He’s paranoid.”
The investigator answers that “this is a lawyer consultation room. There are no more golden opportunities like this, this is your chance.”
She then leaves the room and Shaul Elovitch enters.
Or Elovitch tells his father: “They are giving me the impression that you have something that can get me out. I understand that Jack [Chen] has a problem.”
Shaul Elovitch answers: “I can consult a hundred more lawyers and it won’t change. They tried to turn me into a state witness. They killed me. I need to lie in order to be a state witness because I have nothing to testify about. They are currently trying to get me to confess, confess, confess.”
Israel Bar Association Chairman Avi Himi reacted on Saturday evening by calling on Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit to probe the matter and take steps to “uproot this phenomenon.”
“All boundaries have been crossed,” Himi said in a statement. “It is inconceivable that the police try to harm a person’s right for adequate legal representation, and try to get an attorney fired to achieve their goals.
“On the way to their goal, police brutally trampled the constitutional right for a fair legal procedure, while harming lawyers’ freedom of occupation and their independence,” he added. “Anyone has the right to choose their attorney and to have them advise them and represent them without fear that if police don’t like them they will be fired.”
Justice Minister Amir Ohana, a Netanyahu appointee from the ruling Likud party, also responded with a Facebook post, saying that he hadn’t heard of such a practice by police “even in the most severe cases against crime bosses or the most despicable murderers.”
“What you saw was the use of Elovitch’s son, who was being detained for the first time in his life, to pressure his father to replace a lawyer who seemingly wasn’t to the liking of law enforcement authorities, while eavesdropping on a conversation between the detained father and his son and recording it in the designated lawyer consultation room,” Ohana wrote.
He accused police of seeking “Netanyahu’s head” rather than the truth.
Channel 12’s report — which feeds into Likud’s campaign, days before the September 17 elections — came after Netanyahu and his political allies have been repeatedly accusing the TV network of waging a campaign against the premier by publishing damaging leaks from the cases against him. Netanyahu has even called on the public to boycott Channel 12.
The report also followed a story published Friday morning by the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper that revealed some of the police tactics that had helped secure state witness deals with longtime Netanyahu family spokesman and confidant Nir Hefetz and with the premier’s former chief of staff Ari Harow.
Claiming that it was “doubtful if experienced criminals” would have endured the pressure, the newspaper detailed how investigators isolated Hefetz from his family, warned him that he was putting his family in danger, and later told him and his wife that he was being released only to walk that back at the last minute, bringing Hefetz to tears.
It also featured quotes from Harow’s interrogation, in which a police officer told him he had been giving insufficient information to justify a state witness deal with him: “I need a list of things from you. It’s like a market. You give — I reciprocate.”
“I really don’t know,” Harow responds.
Elsewhere during the conversation Harow says: “Then tell me what you want me to say and I’ll say [it].”
The prime minister responded to that report on Friday afternoon, accusing police of “blackmail.”
“I saw the shocking story about what measures were used on the state witnesses, simply blackmail, almost violently,” Netanyahu told reporters before leaving the United Kingdom after a brief visit. “They told them ‘if you don’t give me the prime minister’s head, we will simply destroy your family.’
“It is unbelievable that such things are done in a democratic country like ours, but I tell you: all these cases are based on state witnesses, and they will collapse. Nothing will remain of them,” he added.
In Case 1000, the so-called gifts scandal, Netanyahu is suspected of “systematically” demanding benefits worth about NIS 1 million ($282,000) from billionaire benefactors, including Arnon Milchan and Australian resort owner James Packer, in exchange for favors.
Case 2000 involves a suspected illicit quid pro quo deal between the prime minister and Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper publisher Arnon Mozes beginning in 2009 that would have seen Benjamin Netanyahu weaken Israel Hayom, Yedioth’s main rival, in return for more favorable coverage from Yedioth.
Netanyahu denies any wrongdoing in all the cases against him.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.