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The Jerusalem Magistrate's Court yesterday acquitted Shin Bet recruit Avishai Raviv of charges that he failed to prevent the assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin. The court ruled there was no evidence that Raviv knew assassin Yigal Amir was plotting to kill Rabin.

Judges Amnon Cohen, Aryeh Romanov and Orit Efal-Gabai said their decision was partly based on testimony given by Raviv, whom they referred to as "a weak person... who wanted to be liked" by his Shin Bet controllers, and therefore told them after the assassination that he had heard Amir bragging about his plans to kill Rabin. However, the court said it found no substantive evidence proving the prosecution's claim that Raviv was aware of the plot and deliberately refrained from reporting it to the secret service, for whom he worked as an informer and undercover agent.

Amir said in his own trial that Raviv, a former Kach member, did not know of his plan to assassinate the prime minister. But Amir's convicted accomplices, his brother Hagai and Dror Adani, claimed Raviv knew of the plot. Further complicating matters was the fact that Margalit Har-Shefi was convicted for failing to report her knowledge of Amir's murder plans.

State Prosecutor Moshe Shiloh said it was still too early to discuss an appeal, since he and his associates had not yet read the entire 61-page decision handed down by the judges. But sources in the Justice Ministry indicated yesterday that it would be very difficult to appeal a verdict based on the judges' analysis of Raviv's personality.

"This has not been an easy period for me - seven difficult years," Raviv said after hearing the verdict. "What kept me alive was the knowledge that the truth would come to light."

Shiloh and fellow prosecutor Orit Sohn claimed Raviv's statements to the police and Shin Bet after the assassination showed that he understood the seriousness of Amir's bragging about assassination Rabin, but he decided not to tell his Shin Bet controllers.

The defense claimed that the prosecution had failed to bring any evidence that Raviv believed Amir meant to kill the prime minister.

Raviv was revealed as a Shin Bet agent-informer code-named Champagne shortly after Rabin's assassination in November 1995. Now 36, Raviv was culled in 1987 from the Kach movement by the secret service's Jewish desk, to participate in, and even initiate, right-wing violence against Arabs in the territories, particularly in the Hebron-Kiryat Arba area, while filing reports to his controllers about radical Jewish activity.

His activities - and his ties to Amir, whom he befriended between 1993 and 1995 while both were students at Bar-Ilan University and active in the anti-Oslo movement - prompted right-wing circles, particularly in the settlers movement, to promote a theory that the Shin Bet, through Raviv, tried to provoke Amir into an assassination attempt in an effort to discredit the radical right wing.

Former Shin Bet chief Ami Ayalon, testifying in the case, said he decided to allow Raviv be put on trial to help scotch the conspiracy theory.

Raviv denied he knew of the plot - and the fact that he was on the Shin Bet payroll - during Amir's trial. But the Shamgar Judicial Commission of Inquiry established that Raviv worked for the Shin Bet, and right-wing circles began lobbying for him to be put on trial for his deeds and perjury.

Attorney General Elyakim Rubinstein decided in 1999 to put Raviv on trial, overruling State Attorney Edna Arbel and the entire upper tiers of the Justice Ministry.

The first three years of the trial were taken up by defense efforts to get its hands on Shin Bet material and the state's opposition to such moves out of concern that it would expose Shin Bet operating methods.