Senior sources: Evidence indicates Netanyahu's bureau chief harassed subordinate
Commission investigators expected to question Natan Eshel under caution next week; sources; evidence gathered thus far cannot be dismissed as mere gossip.
Testimony provided to Civil Service Commission investigators thus far appears to provide a solid evidentiary basis for the allegation that Natan Eshel, the prime minister's bureau chief, sexually harassed a subordinate named R. for a lengthy period, officials familiar with the investigation said on Wednesday.
The information gathered thus far, they added, cannot be dismissed as mere gossip, which is how some people tried to present the story when the commission started its probe.
As of Wednesday, the Civil Service Commission had taken testimony from 16 people. Most of the testimony corroborated the information initially given to Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein: that Eshel seemed obsessed with R., harassed her day and night, followed her movements and even acted jealous, distancing her or getting close to her as he saw fit.
The testimony indicated that Eshel used his cell phone to take pictures of a sexual nature of R. One of the witnesses quoted R. as saying that Eshel "had taken control of her life."
Commission investigators are expected to question Eshel under caution next week.
At the beginning of the week, when Weinstein decided not to give the case to the police, the head of the Civil Service Commission's disciplinary branch, Assaf Rosenberg, asked Eshel to take a leave so as to avoid facing suspension.
On Wednesday, sources involved in the case said that based on the testimony collected thus far, it doesn't seem likely Eshel will ever be able to return to his position.
One employee of the bureau who testified in the Civil Service Commission probe said that Eshel told R. he was following her every move on orders from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's wife, Sara. According to this worker's testimony, Eshel also told R. that she only had her job because of him, and that he was the one who had convinced Sara Netanyahu to okay her employment in the bureau.
Another person who testified to the commission said Eshel had let it drop to R. that he had a role in the appointment of Shin Bet security service head Yoram Cohen, and could therefore get help from the Shin Bet to monitor her activities.
No comment was available from Eshel's attorney, Jacob Weinroth.
Also on Wednesday, it emerged that when three senior officials in the Prime Minister's Bureau revealed their suspicions about Eshel to Weinstein in December, they asked Weinstein to keep their approach to him secret, warning that if R. found out they had come to him, she was liable to harm herself. The three are Cabinet Secretary Zvi Hauser, National Information Director Yoaz Hendel, and Netanyahu's military secretary, Maj. Gen. Yohanan Locker.
After hearing the three out, Weinstein met with Hendel alone to hear what he knew about Eshel's behavior toward R.
Weinstein and his deputy, Raz Nizri, have been holding working meetings with law enforcement officials in Washington this week, and are expected back early next week. Both Nizri and Deputy State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan were chosen by Weinstein to work with him on the Eshel case.
In Weinstein's absence, Nitzan and State Prosecutor Moshe Lador are overseeing the commission's investigation, getting regular briefings from the investigators and keeping Weinstein informed.
It is still not known whether R. will give evidence. On Wednesday, her lawyers once again rebuffed efforts by the commission to persuade her to come forward. They remain firm in their position that R. shouldn't be dragged into the affair, which was reported against her will, and that her privacy must be protected.