Inside Track / The bursting Pandora's box
It was whispered that he will soon contest the position of temporary chairman of the Labor Party against Shimon Peres. The guess was that his unspoken but heartfelt desire is for the Nobel Peace Prize.
It was whispered that he will soon contest the position of temporary chairman of the Labor Party against Shimon Peres. The guess was that his unspoken but heartfelt desire is for the Nobel Peace Prize. Ha, ha. Then he will be able to laugh from the depths of his throat at the Scandinavian dignitaries mummified in their suits - and if there are any Belgians in the hall, at them, too: Look at Sabra and Chatila and look at me.
But the truth is less colorful, like the "gray market" of election funding. There is nothing like peace with the Palestinians to atone for transgressions and for a general amnesty, which will apply - just as though it were another benefit to farmers that must not be denied to certain owners of lands at Kfar Malal - even to the most senior level.
It was for naught that Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom was so infuriated about why and how he was denied a place at the prestige table of the Aqaba summit and forced to sit with the replacements. True, he is a pretty senior figure in the Likud, but he hasn't yet obtained rights to one of the three places that were allocated to Israelis at the table, because they were reserved solely for senior officials who are involved in criminal investigations: Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, his deputy Ehud Olmert and the prime minister's bureau chief, Dov Weisglass. This is the strength of democracy: You can run a government as though there are no investigations against its leaders, and investigations as though there is no government. Only one person in the world, who happened to visit Sharon this week, can understand just how he feels about this situation - Silvio Berlusconi, the prime minister of Italy, who is covered in both the political and criminal pages of the Italian press.
The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, whose department of VIP analysts prepares presidents for their meetings with foreign leaders, translates foreign media and knows second-hand about the Sharon-Olmert investigation. Its competition, though, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, had authoritative material about the Sharon- Weisglass investigation. A representative of the FBI was present at the depositions - held in Los Angeles and New York last October - of Americans (Arthur Finkelstein and his brother, Ron) and of Israelis who reside abroad. The FBI knew and so did the suspects, who were questioned in the spring and visited America frequently, without any concrete restriction being placed on their contacts with others who are involved in the affair. However, no one bothered to tell six million Israelis that in the opinion of the investigators and the prosecution authorities, the prime minister, who was a candidate for a second term in office, provided an account that contradicted the facts even as it was being voiced.
It was not until January of this year, on the eve of the Knesset elections, that the public learned about the depth and breadth of the Sharon-Weisglass file, whose protagonists are the prime minister and his two sons, who have the aid of good friends on three continents: North America, South Africa and Central Europe. The attorney general, Elyakim Rubinstein, investigated and discovered and suspected that the person responsible for the story that was published in Haaretz by Baruch Kra was the deputy prosecuting attorney of the Central District, Leora Glatt-Berkowitz. Rubinstein tried to decide what to do about her. He granted her a hearing and afterward heard the advice of officials in the State Prosecutor's Office and of her lawyers to make do with a disciplinary hearing: No trained dog of a "sting" unit is needed to sniff out the dynamite that this Pandora's box holds. Rubinstein listened but didn't hear. He was mostly angry, and anger is a bad counselor, even for the government's legal counsel.
The result was that in this investigation, which was intended to discover journalistic sources, Rubinstein became a meta-source of appetizing press material, such as the sources of the Internal Affairs Department, a Justice Ministry unit that investigates suspicions of wrongdoing by the police. With the identity of covert sources like these made public, at the direct or indirect responsibility of the attorney general and the director of Internal Affairs, only a Shi'ite suicide bomber will henceforth agree to assist in eradicating police corruption.
Attention was drawn, and rightly so, to two memos drafted by Eran Shander, the outgoing director of Internal Affairs and the head of the team of investigators. In one memo, Shander was the receptacle for gossip that originated with the spokesman of the Justice Ministry, Yaakov Galanti. The gossip, which dealt, among other subjects, with journalists who Galanti thought might have been the recipients of the internal material rather than Kra, became, under Shander's magic wand, information meriting an investigation.
Police intelligence fed the journalists' (and the media outlets') telephone numbers into a computer in search of a possible cross-match between them and Kra and others. Should it turn out, in a judicial inquiry, that in so doing Shander and Rubinstein prima facie exceeded their authority or abused the power of their office, complaints against them will be lodged with the police.
The second memorandum documented a secret meeting Shander held with a "media person" who somehow obtained a document that he had earlier showed to Moshe Nussbaum, Channel Two's police reporter. This document, whose transmission to the investigators and from them to the Criminal Identification Department was the basest kind of journalistic wantonness, did not remove Glatt-Berkowitz from the closet: It pushed her inside and shut the door on her. Shander gave his journalistic source - the journalist who became the source for the prosecutor, thus violating the natural order - the code name "Nesher" (Eagle). The meaning of this eagle has not yet landed. If we rule out the simple alternative, which does not befit a unit like Internal Affairs, to the effect that for the convenience of the investigators, the code names of their sources are classified by the initials of their real names, it will take a lineup of media people in order to ferret out the profile of which of them Shander thinks resembles a bird of prey.
Following the publication of the Nesher memorandum, the prosecution rushed for a way to grant him immunity. Not with the lost hope of preventing further public discussion but in an effort to preclude what was likely to transpire in the witness box when Shander was called to testify.
And this is only the external envelope, because the core of the case, which will be exposed in the trial of Glatt-Berkowitz, is the Sharon affair. Without it the prosecution would not be able to maintain that the publication of the report about the depositions abroad disrupted the investigation of the Sharon affair. And here, too, we are likely to get a loop: Cyril Kern, who from his home in Cape Town served as a financial clearinghouse for other friends of Sharon's, in Austria and Manhattan will be asked to testify whether he only learned from Kra's reports that the State of Israel was looking for him in order to question him. If not, if it should turn out that someone warned him in advance, as there was someone who looked after the witnesses in Los Angeles and New York earlier, the prosecution line will collapse. It's difficult to believe that Kern will be brought to Israel in order to testify, so an interrogation of the muddy waters from the previous interrogation will be called for.
Israel already had a prime minister who was suspected of criminal behavior, named Benjamin Netanyahu, but Sharon is Israeli champion in number and in succession of investigations. For six years, almost without a break, as foreign minister and national infrastructure minister and leader of the opposition and prime minister, Sharon has been suspected in one matter or another. From the summer of 1997 he was a suspect in the affair involving Major General (res.) Janusz Ben-Gal, whose account of Sharon's behavior in the Lebanon War turned from black to white when Sharon was seen to be his benefactor in the importation of gas from Russia.
No sooner was that case closed - because the evidentiary basis against Sharon was merely circumstantial - when the next affair arose, which for some reason is divided into two by the police and the prosecuting authorities, even though both parts of the affair have the same parentage: the contest between Sharon and Ehud Olmert for leadership of the Likud in the autumn of 1999.
One half of this affair is known as "Rotten Apple / The Greek Island" - the suspicion that in return for assistance by the contractor and businessman David Appel to each of the two rivals, they both did him favors to the best of their ability; and the other half is known as the "Sharon primaries." The first is being investigated by the National Unit for the Investigation of International Crime, which is based in Petah Tikva, where the Russian gas affair was also investigated; the second by the National Fraud Investigations Unit, based in Bat Yam. And both investigations are being supervised by different prosecutors from the Central District. Petah Tikva and Bat Yam shall not converge: To set up a joint investigative team that will focus on the reciprocal relations between the two affairs and the suspects under the direct supervision of one prosecutor, a certified Sharonologist? Perish the thought.
Not that the story is so complicated. The state attorney found that Sharon financed his campaign in the Likud primaries - which he had to win in order to become the party's candidate for prime minister - by means of forbidden money. According to the law he had to return nearly NIS 5 million. He took NIS 500,000 from his personal account, and in order to withdraw another NIS 4.2 million from that account, he (through his son Gilad) borrowed and started the process of mortgaging Sycamore Ranch. To repay this loan, he (through his sons Gilad and Omri) took another loan. To guarantee the defrayment of the second loan, $1.5 million was deposited on behalf of Cyril Kern via Austria and New York. In other words: The Sharon family is suspected of using forbidden money in order to return forbidden money.
In his police interrogation, in April, 2002, Sharon stuck to his account that the ranch was mortgaged - three months after it "was clear to all those involved that it is impossible to mortgage the ranch." Sharon, who since the mid-1950s has had no rivals in terms of experience in army and police investigations, made sure to qualify his account with the words "It seems to me" and "I think." Police Brigadier General Miri Golan, the head of the national fraud squad, stated in a joint discussion of the police and the prosecution, before the depositions in the United States: "Regarding Sharon himself, there is an insufficient foundation of evidence." And: "Regarding Omri Sharon it looks pretty closed. Regarding Weisglass we have to check - there are a number of testimonies that link him and I think it may be possible to put together a sufficient evidentiary foundation."
Chief Superintendent Nahum Levy, whose private residence in Herzliya, and his ID and telephone numbers, are available to anyone interested in the Glatt-Berkowitz file, is not only the head of one of the sections in Internal Affairs: He is also the head of "SIT [Special Investigations Team] / Sharon." In its 56th year of independence, Israel has the privilege of having a prime minister whose name graces a special investigative team of the police: "SIT / Sharon," which has been operating since October, 2001 - its second birthday celebrations are fast approaching - has six or seven investigators.
Maybe it's not fair to tease the weary public servants, recipients of government salaries, who have to cope with expensive lawyers - the American Harland Braun and the Israeli Ilan Sofer, from the S. Horwitz law firm - who in the overseas depositions supervised the right of silence of the election campaign donors who were questioned. Cat-and-mouse games are not helping to bring the investigation to a close, especially when the cat is the prime minister, who is under a public cloud because of the silence of his associates even if it is not yet incriminating him judicially, because after all, it's not in every case that an eagle assists the investigators.