In a shocking new twist to an ongoing scandal, Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Sunday accused former Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi of bribery.
Ashkenazi vehemently denied the charge, which an aide termed "delusional."
Meanwhile, Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein announced Sunday that he will not reopen a criminal investigation at this time into the so-called Harpaz affair, which involved an alleged attempt to influence the selection of Ashkenazi's successor via a forged document. He thereby rejected State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss' request that he do so.
However, Weinstein added, he would consider doing so at a later date.
The bribery accusation was made in a letter that Barak's attorney, Navot Telzur, sent to Weinstein on Sunday echoing Lindenstrauss' request that the probe be reopened. Telzur wrote that Lindenstrauss, who recently concluded his own investigation into the affair and distributed his draft report to the parties concerned, has since obtained new evidence that has yet to be examined by any investigative body.
But aside from the need to examine this new evidence, he charged, the draft report itself provides solid grounds for suspecting a group of senior officers led by Ashkenazi, "as the head of the pyramid," of a long list of crimes in connection with various senior IDF appointments. The alleged crimes include forgery, conspiracy, obstruction of justice and giving and taking bribes.
So far, the only person actually indicted in the case is Boaz Harpaz, the former officer and friend of Ashkenazi's who allegedly forged a document in order to smear a leading contender for the chief of staff's job. But the comptroller's draft report, Telzur wrote, reveals that Harpaz played a role in many senior IDF appointments. By giving him influence over these appointments, the letter charged, Ashkenazi enabled Harpaz to obtain bribes from officers seeking promotion.
"This is a miserable attempt by Defense Minister Barak to generate media spin, in order to prevent an investigation into the disappearance or destruction of all the tapes and documents related to the Harpaz incident from his office," an Ashkenazi aide charged. "The accusation that Ashkenazi took bribes is ridiculous and delusional. Something very bad is evidently happening to the defense minister."
The letter, which was leaked to Channel 10 television last night, was the latest in a series of blows Barak has suffered recently.
When Lindenstrauss' draft report, which also examined the fraught relationship between Barak and Ashkenazi, was issued two months ago, nonpartisan sources who saw the document told Haaretz that it cast most of the blame on Ashkenazi. Since then, however, Barak's victory has seemed to be slipping away.
There is now real danger that the final report will not be published before Lindenstrauss retires in July, due to a legal battle waged by Ashkenazi's senior aide, Col. Erez Weiner. The High Court of Justice is due to rule next week on Weiner's request to see all the evidence on which Lindenstrauss based his scathing findings about Weiner, including the finding that Weiner employed Harpaz to dig up dirt about Barak. If the court accedes to this request - which the attorney general is considering backing - the report's publication could be delayed for years while the new comptroller learns the material.
Moreover, at least for now, Weinstein has rejected Lindenstrauss' request to reopen the criminal probe to address the issue of Harpaz's ties with Ashkenazi and Weiner.
In his request to Weinstein, Lindenstrauss also cited Ashkenazi's claim that Barak's office deliberately destroyed tapes of relevant conversations. In both the draft report and in subsequent conversations, Lindenstrauss has said he is convinced that the tapes were destroyed due to technical mishaps rather than deliberately. He also accepted Barak's claim that the tapes would be irrelevant in any case, since conversations unrelated to operational issues weren't recorded. Ashkenazi's office, in contrast, taped all conversations, and Lindenstrauss' report relies heavily on these recordings.
Nevertheless, the very fact that Lindenstrauss mentioned the issue in his appeal to Weinstein leaves the public with the impression that Ashkenazi's accusations have some merit. A group of Weiner's former colleagues encouraged this belief on Sunday by demonstrating in Tel Aviv with signs reading "Investigate the erasure of Barak's tapes."
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