Lawyer Jacob Weinroth questioned by police over 'secret recordings' of judge in tax case
Prominent lawyer Jacob Weinroth is currently facing charges of bribery and money-laundering.
Currently facing charges of bribery and money-laundering, prominent lawyer Jacob Weinroth has been questioned by police officers over accusations that he tried to get another man, Ronen Bar Shiva, to discuss Weinroth's case with District Court Judge Gilad Neuthal and secretly record the conversation.
The issue came up during the trial of Bar Shiva, who is being tried for fraudulently raising money for a campaign to free kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit and to help the victims of the Carmel fire.
Bar Shira told police fraud squad investigators that Weinroth had asked him to record Neuthal because "a change in the course of the trial could save him [Weinroth]." Bar Shira volunteered to take a polygraph on the matter.
An associate of Bar Shira, Aryeh Polasky, told police he was present at a meeting between Weinroth and Bar Shira in the lobby of the Renaissance Hotel in Tel Aviv late last year, and that it was Bar Shira who proposed to Weinroth that he would record Neuthal and that Weinroth asked Bar Shira to bring him the tape.
Weinroth vehemently denied the allegation, and said that if Bar Shira had suggested such a thing, he would have reported it to the police.
Weinroth has not been questioned under warning in the affair. Rather, police asked him and his secretary, Flora Prastai-Abuhatzera, as well as Bar Shira and Polasky, a series of 10 questions, the answers to which Haaretz has obtained.
Prastai-Abuhatzera told police she had received text messages from Bar Shira complaining that Weinroth had not fulfilled a pledge to donate to Bar Shira's supposed charities, "maybe because he did not receive recordings of the judge." Weinroth recently fired Prastai-Abuhatzera.
'Drop a bombshell'
Bar Shira allegedly contacted Weinroth's office less than a year ago. At first he received a contribution of NIS 10,000 from Weinroth supposedly for an event to help free Gilad Shalit. Later, Bar Shira said Weinroth referred him to a foundation of wealthy businessman Frank Lowy to receive a donation, and promised to raise additional money for him.
According to Bar Shira, Weinroth supposedly hinted to him to record Neuthal at a meeting at a Tel Aviv cafe near Weinroth's office. A few days later, they had another meeting at the Renaissance Hotel.
During Bar Shira's questioning under warning on the fraud suspicions, he told police he wanted to "drop a bombshell and say that Weinroth asked me to record his judge, Gilad Neuthal."
One of the detectives questioning Bar Shira noted on the form containing Bar Shira's testimony that the latter "was upset and crying again," and that he was "asking to be given a lie detector test over this thing."
Bar Shira reportedly told police: "Weinroth told me 'go be his friend' [referring to Neuthal] and told me that he would arrange another contribution from the Meier family of Geneva of NIS 1 million for the Carmel communities."
When asked how the subject of Neuthal came up, Bar Shira said: "Weinroth asked me at the meeting at Aroma whether I could do something personal for him. He told me how cruel Judge Neuthal was being toward him and other such things." Bar Shira said that at their second meeting, at the Renaissance, Weinroth clearly stated the mission of recording Neuthal, and that "Weinroth linked [his] contribution and this task."
"I remember that a week or two later Weinroth's father died and then he sent me a text message that the judge didn't even express his condolences. I was very surprised to get a text message like that but I understood what he meant."
Bar Shira said that Weinroth told him he was to "persuade the judge that Weinroth was a good man, a man that made contributions, to influence the judge so he would find Weinroth innocent; that's what he wanted."
When the investigator asked Bar Shira why he thought Weinroth needed a recording, Bar Shira replied: "...it seems to me he wanted to disqualify Neuthal with the recording."
When the investigators pressed Bar Shira further on the matter of the recording, he said: "I guess he wanted me to record the judge because of my ability to get people to like me, to make relationships... He told me in his colorful language to try to persuade the judge that he did not launder money and he is being falsely accused."
The investigator asked Bar Shira why Weinroth, a prominent attorney, would take such a risk as to ask Bar Shira, a person Weinroth did not know, on such a sensitive matter.
Bar Shira said: "I did not analyze it intellectually. I was dependent on him."
Bar Shira also added: "I had no way to do that crazy thing. If it had been my initiative, he should have gone to the police."
The investigators told Bar Shira they had found no mention of Judge Neuthal in messages he sent to or received from Weinroth, at which point Bar Shira said he would take a lie detector test, and that Weinroth's messages were allusions such as "I want to hear the music."
Polasky told police he heard Weinroth tell Bar Shira to bring him the cassette recording if he could and "I want to hear it and then I'll talk to you." When asked what Weinroth wanted to hear, Polasky said: "That he [Bar Shira] spoke to the judge and persuaded him to help Weinroth."
Weinroth told police that Bar Shira said he had been Neuthal's commander in the army, that he serves with Neuthal in the reserves and is a close friend, and that when the two chatted, Neuthal had said good things about Weinroth to Bar Shira.
Weinroth told police he was suspicious of such a statement, "because I know Neuthal to be a very closed man. But then I said that even a closed man has friends." Weinroth said said he was happy to hear about Neuthal's supposed good opinion of him because he is on trial before Neuthal.
Weinroth also said he thought Neuthal might have a good opinion of him because when Harish was attorney general, he would ask Weinroth to help people who were having legal problems and Neuthal, as Harish's aide, might have heard about Weinroth's good works.
Weinroth said he never complained to Bar Shira that Neuthal had not extended his condolences on the death of Weinroth's father.
He also said he had never asked Bar Shira anything with regard to Neuthal, and that Bar Shira had never offered to do anything in that connection, calling the idea "bizarre."
Police asked Weinroth how he explained that Polasky said he heard Weinroth and Bar Shira discussing the matter, and he said it was because Polasky and Bar Shira were a "pair of swindlers" who were "trying to explain how they had not gotten money fraudulently but in exchange for a recording."
Bar Shira, who has a criminal record, is suspected of raising funds fictitiously and taking hundreds of thousands of shekels for himself.
Weinroth is suspected of working for a former senior figure in the Tax Authority, Shuki Vita, for less than the usual fee and in return, Vita is suspected of engineering tax breaks for some of Weinroth's clients, including Arkadi Gaydamak and Michael Chernoy.
The decision to indict Weinroth raised a storm because of the legal precedents it involved as well as Weinroth's celebrity status in the legal world.
Neuthal, 52, is considered a rising star in Israel's juridical scene. In 1994, after serving as a senior aide to then-Attorney General Yosef Harish, Neuthal was appointed a Magistrate's Court Judge, and in 2007 was appointed to the District Court.