State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan on Tuesday voiced his opposition to a contested bill that would restrict police from recommending criminal charges upon concluding investigations, saying the proposed legislation was “problematic” and “superfluous” and would hamper the work of his office.
Meanwhile, several lawmakers who opposed the bill protested Tuesday to Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein over the fast-tracking of the bill, whose sponsors are seeking to pass it into law by next Monday, Hadashot news (formerly Channel 2) reported.
The Knesset’s legal adviser on Tuesday night responded to the opposition lawmakers with a legal opinion stating that the process of expediting the bill through parliament was permissible.
The bill by Likud MK David Amsalem has widely been seen as an attempt by Likud lawmakers to shield Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from the public fallout, should police find sufficient evidence against him in two ongoing corruption probes to warrant criminal charges by prosecutors.
The bill cleared its first reading at the Knesset Monday with 46 lawmakers in favor, 37 opposed.
Among those who signed the protest letter were opposition MKs Tamar Zandberg (Meretz), Dov Khenin (Joint Arab List), Yael German (Yesh Atid), Mickey Rosenthal (Zionist Union), Mickey Levy (Yesh Atid), Yael Cohen-Paran (Zionist Union), and Lea Fadida (Zionist Union).
Speaking at a journalism conference in the southern port city of Eilat, Nitzan said the so-called “recommendations law” was “disturbing” and unnecessary.
“It is a problematic law, a superfluous law, that will harm the prosecutor’s work,” he declared. “If I understood the purpose of the law, and what public interest it serves, that would suffice. But, to my regret, this matter is really problematic, and I thought it worthwhile that I state my opinion loud and clear.”
“As long as it was just a matter of preventing publication of the police recommendations or the police opinion, a public debate on it could be held,” continued Nitzan. “One the one hand, there is the public’s right to know and on the other hand there is the effects on privacy.
“But, to come with a law that says not only is it prohibited to publicize, but it is completely forbidden to hand over [to state prosecutors] the police position, I thought that was unnecessary and problematic.”
Nitzan said that although the law had been softened from its original version, it “is still very problematic.”
He noted that, under the current arrangements, prosecutors do not have to accept the police recommendations.
“Many times, we don’t accept the recommendations,” he said. “What is this silencing [of the police] for? It is very disturbing to us.”
The revised bill approved by the Knesset on Monday bans police investigators who are wrapping up their probes from informing prosecutors whether they believe there are grounds for indictment (although this provision would not apply to the ongoing Netanyahu investigations) and bars police from publicizing information or leaking their conclusions to the media. The bill has faced opposition from police and Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit — who will ultimately decide whether to press charges against Netanyahu.
Nitzan also vowed his office would continue to fulfill its role amid “attacks” on law enforcement.
“Nothing will deter us. We will continue to wrestle with corruption,” he said.
Netanyahu is being investigated on allegations of accepting pricey gifts from billionaire benefactors and an alleged quid-pro-quo deal with a newspaper publisher, in two separate cases known as Case 1000 and Case 2000, respectively.
The prime minister denies all the charges against him. Although not a suspect, the prime minister is tied to key suspects in another graft investigation surrounding the multi-billion shekel purchase of navy submarines and ships from a German shipbuilder, in what is known as Case 3000.
“Even today the attorney general hasn’t ordered the opening of an investigation into the prime minister,” Nitzan said of the submarines affair. “The significance is clear — there is not enough evidence to justify such an investigation. If there is, the public will know about it. If we feel that in this matter or another there is need to get testimony from the prime minister, we will do so. We don’t notify ahead of time who will be questioned and who won’t.”
According to Nitzan, the Case 1000 and 2000 investigations won’t go on for much longer and the material will soon be handed over to the prosecutors. Netanyahu, who has already been questioned by police six times regarding the two investigations is likely to be grilled again, Nitzan said.
Netanyahu most recently faced investigators at the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem last week.