WhatsApp judge in Bezek probe found guilty of unbecoming behavior

Ronit Poznansky-Katz’s punishment to be announced at later date; Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court grants extension of a gag order in Bezeq graft probe until May 31

Raoul Wootliff is the The Times of Israel's political correspondent.

Judge Ronit Poznansky-Katz. (Judiciary of Israel)
Judge Ronit Poznansky-Katz. (Judiciary of Israel)

A disciplinary court for judges on Sunday found a Tel Aviv magistrates court judge guilty of unbecoming behavior, after she engaged in a WhatsApp correspondence with a lawyer from the Israel Securities Authority regarding suspects in the high profile corruption probe known as Case 4000.

Case 4000 involves suspicions that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who served as communications minister for several years over his past two terms as premier, advanced regulatory decisions benefiting Shaul Elovitch, the controlling shareholder of Israel’s largest telecommunications firm, Bezeq, in exchange for flattering coverage of the Netanyahus from the Elovitch-owned Walla news site.

The prime minister, his wife Sara, and their son Yair have all been questioned as part of the investigation.

All have denied wrongdoing.

In February, Channel 10 News obtained a WhatsApp conversation between Judge Ronit Poznansky-Katz and the security’s authority lawyer Eran Shacham-Shavit, in which the latter told the former that the authorities intended to release some of the suspects in the probe, while holding others for a few more days, and advising her, “Try and act surprised.”

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

Poznansky-Katz responded, “I’m practicing my surprised face,” before apparently agreeing to the request.

The WhatsApp exchange, which some believed to be evidence of collusion between the two, appeared to be less damning when the full conversation was made public, showing a discussion that revolved mainly around case logistics.

It also failed to benefit the suspects in the corruption probe, who appealed to be released from custody on grounds of “obstruction justice” — a claim Poznansky-Katz’s replacement judge rejected.

Still, Poznansky-Katz was removed from further planned hearings on Case 4000, 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 an inquiry was completed.

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked (r) and Supreme Court President Esther Hayut on February 22, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash 90)

Supreme Court Chief Justice Esther Hayut and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked ordered a formal inquiry into Poznansky-Katz’s behavior.

On Sunday, Poznansky-Katz was found guilty of the behavior to which she herself had admitted. Her punishment will be determined at a later date.

Shacham-Shavit was also removed from the case and placed on leave, and the Israel Securities Authority vowed to investigate his actions.

On the bench at the disciplinary court were former Supreme Court president Asher Grunis, Supreme Court justice Neal Hendel, and Nazareth district court vice president Esther Helman.

Also on Sunday, the Tel Aviv Magistrates Court granted the extension of a gag order in the Bezeq graft probe until May 31.

The gag order was extended for an additional 45 days — the maximum allowed — suggesting investigators have further work to do.

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