Israeli Lawmaker's Libel Suit Backfires: Court Rules Fair to Say He Was 'Pimping Prostitutes'

Court dismisses case Oren Hazan brought against Channel 2 journalist Amit Segal, rules ex-deputy Knesset speaker used hard drugs while managing Bulgarian casino.

A political cartoon of Likud MK Oren Hazan by Haaretz's Eran Wolkovski, May 2015.
A political cartoon of Likud MK Oren Hazan by Haaretz's Eran Wolkovski, May 2015. Eran Wolkovski

A court ruled on Tuesday that former deputy Knesset speaker MK Oren Hazan (Likud) used hard drugs and managed a casino in Bulgaria. The court further ruled that calling Hazan a "pimp" in an investigative report was valid based on the report's findings.

The Tel Aviv Magistrate's court based its ruling off Channel 2 journalist Amit Segal's June 2015 investigation, where he reported that Hazan solicited prostitutes for casino visitors in the resort city of Burgas, though many details of the case came to light after Hazan sued Segal for libel.

"It has been proven beyond a shadow of a doubt, by testimony and  documents submitted by the defendant, that the plaintiff (Hazan) was the director general of a casino, despite his sweeping denial," the ruling stated.

"The defendant conducted a serious and thorough investigation, and for which many subjects were interviewed," the ruling stated. 

Nevertheless, Hazan was granted 40,000 shekels ($10,000) in damages for two instances in which Segal claimed Hazan sold drugs.

Likud MK Oren Hazan.
Olivier Fitoussi

The court asserted that it cannot be proven that Hazan provided casino clients with call girls, but ruled that Segal's claims to that effect aren't slanderous because he cited several sources to back the claims. It further ruled that calling Hazan a "pimp" was a valid opinion based on his findings. 

Hazan sued Segal for libel in 2015 following the latter’s investigative report, according to which Hazan had provided escorts for clients in the casino he ran in Burgas, Bulgaria. Segal presented the court with a detailed affidavit, in which he related his findings. He also added other affidavits by people who knew Hazan or who had worked with him and could testify as to his conduct.

Segal was obliged to submit open affidavits ahead of the fact-determining phase of the trial after the court rejected his lawyers’ request to enable witnesses to testify in closed sessions.

One affidavit was by V., who claims that he was the professional manager at the casino in which Hazan was the general manager. He said that he was the one who introduced Hazan to the Red Rose strip club, from where prostitution services were solicited for Hazan’s casino clients.

“During the course of my work there were several occasions on which Hazan sent his driver to bring some strippers-escorts from the club. As far as I know Hazan paid the driver for these girls. The money went to the club’s Madame, Sonya, based on the financial arrangement the two of them had,” he said.

In his affidavit Segal states that he’s obtained several documents and email exchanges in which Hazan is presented as the manager of the company operating the casino. Another affidavit is by A., who claims he worked at the casino. Even before working at the casino A. said that on a visit to Burgas “my friends and I, accompanied by Hazan, purchased some crystal meth from a street dealer. We then went to our hotel room and snorted it. I remember seeing Hazan snorting it.”

A. also confirmed that Hazan had ordered call girls for his clients at the casino.

Another affidavit is by T., who also worked at the casino. He testified that Hazan had promised that if he brought a hefty client to the casino, the casino would see to all his wishes, including ordering escorts. “I remember at least one occasion on which Hazan offered that I come with him to the strip club and another on which he brought strippers to the casino,” he said.

Segal published his investigative report dealing with Hazan’s conduct in Bulgaria in June 2015. The report, which evoked a public outcry, included testimonies according to which Hazan had provided escorts for guests of the casino he operated in Burgas. Hazan denied these allegations and in response sued for libel, asking for one million shekels in damages.

Later, Hazan submitted an affidavit in which he confirmed that he’d visited strip clubs in Bulgaria a few times, in order to “share a beer with friends.” However, he claimed that he had never ordered escorts and had not provided these for guests of the casino he ran in Bulgaria. With regard to drugs, Hazan said he had been present while some friends used them 13 years ago in South America, but that he’d never been present at a sale or solicitation of drugs. Personally, he had never smoked or consumed any drug, he stated, adding that his medical condition prevents him from smoking or snorting drugs.

In his affidavit, Segal claimed that Hazan has no good name, precluding any pretext for a libel suit. Segal detailed different reports of Hazan, such as his suspension as Knesset speaker, the recommendation to indict him for assaulting the director general of the Ariel municipality, different financial claims as well as a TV story in which some of the employees at a bar he owns complained of sexual harassment.