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A nominating committee yesterday recommended the appointment of traffic police chief Major General Avi Ben Hamo, who lobbied for the reinstatement of a policeman accused of accepting bribes from a pimp, to head the national witness protection program.

The panel, named by Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch, unanimously voted to install Ben Hamo in the position. The list of candidates included dozens of retired police officers, military officials and Shin Bet operatives.

The committee, headed by Public Security Ministry director general Hagai Peleg, included Civil Service Commissioner Shmuel Hollander, State Prosecutor Moshe Lador, the national public defender Inbal Rubinstein, and the head of the police's investigations and intelligence branch, Yoav Segalovich. The panel's recommendation will soon be brought before Aharonovitch for his approval.

The committee members were unaware that two years ago Ben Hamo supported the reinstatement of a police officer who was accused of accepting a bribe. The officer, Ilya Strashnoy, was acquitted due to an oversight by prosecutors.

Strashnoy was first arrested 10 years ago for allegedly accepting a bribe from a pimp in exchange for the speedy release of a group of prostitutes he had apprehended while on duty in the Tel Aviv area. Strashnoy had also arrested the pimp.

The pimp, Stanislav Nekersovsky, was a well-known handler of escort girls in the Tel Aviv area. After his arrest, he and Strashnoy developed a friendly relationship which continued after his release from jail.

According to official police memoranda, Nekersovsky provided the authorities with information on the whereabouts of prostitutes who were illegally in Israel. After the women were arrested, the pimps were required to pay Strashnoy and Nekersovsky a sum of money in exchange for their quick release, according to the documents. The memos were then passed onto the Police Investigations Department at the Justice Ministry.

In March 2000, Strashnoy was arrested for allegedly receiving tens of thousands of dollars in bribe money from numerous figures. He was immediately suspended from the police force while Nekersovsky was sentenced to a lengthy prison term for other offenses.

An error by the prosecutor's office led to a delay in the case, and an indictment was finally handed down against Strashnoy six years after the arrest. Last year, prosecutors announced it was dropping the case due to the disappearance of their key witness, Nekersovsky.

Ben Hamo, who is currently abroad, was unavailable for comment.