Looking back in anger
Three years after he was kicked out of his position as head of the Police Investigations Branch, Moshe Mizrahi is still convinced he was the victim of political pressures on his bosses, and that the battle against corruption in high places has been decided − in favor of the corrupt.
The conclusion of the former head of the Police Investigations Branch and, as such, the scourge of white-collar criminals and corrupt politicians and others, is sharp and painful: The battle between the law-enforcement authorities and the corrupt has long been decided - in favor of the latter.
"The forces are lopsided," Moshe Mizrahi, 57, asserts. "Take the Katsav case, look at the machinery that was activated there. Take the Ramon case, which consists of just one kiss, look at the tremendous machinery that was brought into play against the law-enforcement system, against the woman who filed the complaint. A steamroller of forces.
"People talk about equality before the law. What equality? We have to be even stricter with public figures, because of their capabilities in the past few decades. It's not what Buzaglo [the "ordinary citizen"] has, and anyway he kicked the bucket long ago. Now his body has been violated publicly in this plea bargain. Great God."
The plea bargain that Attorney General Menachem Mazuz struck with former president Moshe Katsav made it clear to Mizrahi that above a certain level, power erases guilt. "As a former member of the system, it shocked me. A well-known lawyer once told me that my problem was that I see things in black and white. I answered him that the bigger the gray areas in our ugly reality become, the harder it is to survive as a normative person, certainly within such a system.
"So do you see the advantage of black-and-white? When you stand on that line, and you are determined, you also have the courage to send these cases to be tested in court, even if there is a small chance that the outcome will be different from what you want. You have to open the public's eyes to these ugly and disgusting images, which we lived with for years. But for that you need courage. If there is no courage, you close the case." Do you think the heads of the law-enforcement system lack courage?
"Yes, I think so. There is a process of serious and constant erosion in the system. I can quote you from even senior attorneys in the State Prosecutor's Office: 'I would run from this case with everything I've got.' Those are cases that I call 'career buriers.'"
The message trickles down
Moshe Mizrahi probably knows better than any other cop which cases are career buriers. After all, his career as head of the Investigations Department came up against a wall in the wake of the investigation of cabinet minister Avigdor Lieberman, concurrent with Mizrahi's handling of the various investigations into Ariel Sharon, who was prime minister at the time, and his sons. The politicians had every reason to get rid of him, while the judicial system, led then by attorney general (now Supreme Court Justice) Elyakim Rubinstein and his successor, were eager to sacrifice him.
Even before all that, as head of the Serious and International Crimes Unit (SICU), Mizrahi headed up highly complex corruption investigations, nailing convictions against the Russian-Jewish businessman Grigory Lerner for bribery and fraud, and against Jacob and Ofer Nimrodi, the owners of the daily Ma'ariv, for wiretapping and obstructing justice. After being removed as head of the Investigations Department and sent into internal exile with an appointment as chief of the Community and Civil Guard Department, Mizrahi had plenty of time to observe developments from the side, and found himself becoming seriously worried.
"Look at the Benizri case," he says, referring to the indictment of Knesset Member and former minister Shlomo Benizri, from the Shas party. "Look how long he was interrogated and how long the file lay in the office of the prosecution before an indictment was filed. Check out how long the file of Reuven Gross - known as 'the king of the Tel Aviv parking lots' - lay around. And in the end they send an attorney and a half, and maybe a quarter of one who's clerking, against a powerful battery from a law office of 70 people, along with a pile of PR people."
With its manpower and budgets, is the Israel Police capable of coping with white-collar corruption?
"No. The investigative units are no match for the corruption. People don't understand that. In the period when there were really a lot of cases, which units spearheaded the investigations? SICU, whose main task was to deal with chiefs of organized crime from the former Soviet Union, had a staff of 140, and the National Fraud Unit had 120 people. That is a joke. And then come all those hallucinatory complaints by people sitting on the mountain top who say 'They are wasting resources on persecuting public figures and corruption instead of going after the small-time crooks.' Tell me, are they totally nuts? Good God. Do they have any idea what a huge front this is and how many things lie on the shelf for years, without anyone touching them?"
Maybe the politicians are right and the number of investigations is exaggerated? Ehud Olmert, and Sharon before him, said the investigations make it very hard for them to do their job.
"That is a foolish allegation. The fact that people who are under investigation keep reaching such positions is a public malfunction caused by the fact that the court and the attorneys general are always submitting things to the 'public test.' The public sees the message that trickles down from these systems."
Begging to be tried
Mizrahi was removed from his post as head of the Investigations Branch three years ago by Gideon Ezra, who was then the public security minister, with the backing of Attorney General Menachem Mazuz. This followed a report drawn up by Mazuz's forerunner, Rubinstein, that attacked the performance of SICU when it was headed by Mizrahi. Rubinstein was critical of the wiretapping methods used against Avigdor Lieberman, MK Michael Gorlovsky and businessman David Appel, among others. According to Rubinstein, conversations that had no concrete connection to the investigations under way were also being transcribed. Rubinstein's decision to recommend Mizrahi's removal without any judicial process, criminal or disciplinary, split the public prosecution into two camps.
The state prosecutor at the time, Edna Arbel (also now a Supreme Court justice), along with the former head of the criminal department in the state prosecution, Nava Ben Or, and the chief prosecutor of the Southern District, Iska Leibowitz, defended Mizrahi with all their might. They described him as a courageous officer who was fearlessly battling corruption. The dispute revolved mainly around the wiretapping of Lieberman at the end of the 1990s, when the politician was taking a break from public life, and entered business on an international scale. The SICU, suspecting that he had ties with Russian organized crime, engaged in a covert investigation of his activities.
During the investigation, Lieberman fiercely attacked Mizrahi, suggesting, for example, that he be awarded a prize for being the "darling of the anti-Semites." His assault, unprecedented in its virulence, would continue until Mizrahi's departure and would be joined by other public figures and suspects.
In early 2002, it emerged that during the investigation against Lieberman, a clever mole was working in Mizrahi's unit. The man, a junior policeman named Stanislav Yazhemsky, took all the tapes from the wiretaps of Lieberman, Appel, businessman Mikhail Chernoy and others, and fled to Canada. Some of the transcripts he stole, carefully selected, found their way to the press.
According to Mizrahi, the timing of the publication was not coincidental. Ten days before the release of the transcripts, he says, he received a written request from the head of the National Fraud Squad, Miri Golan, to summon Lieberman to an open interrogation - "and while the request was on my desk, the wiretapping [transcripts] started to appear."
The publication generated a furor. Mizrahi himself asked Rubinstein to investigate the allegations of irregular wiretapping. "And why did I do that?" Mizrahi recalled this week. "Because, to remind you, when the transcripts were published, you had a minister [Lieberman] and a prime minister [Sharon], both of whom were under investigation, and they started to ask questions about the wiretapping and the investigations in cabinet meetings. [It's like the] Third World. Third World. I thought I was hallucinating, seeing the cabinet deal with this. It was an ugly junction in the history of the people of Israel.
"It is only in very particular countries that people under investigation deal with those inquiries in cabinet meetings and submit official questions. And the public security minister then transmits the questions [to the police] for responses. Unbelievable. When that happened, there was tremendous pressure from outside; I understood the attorney general, so I volunteered [to be investigated], because we stopped functioning. I saw that the pressure was having results. Did I know what I was getting into?"
The head of the Investigations Branch was himself investigated. The Police Investigations Department (PID), which conducted the inquiry, recommend that Rubinstein place Mizrahi on disciplinary trial. The head of the PID at the time, Eran Shendar, who is today state prosecutor, recommended granting immunity to Yazhemsky, to the consternation of Edna Arbel and her colleagues. They wanted to know who was behind the theft of thousands of wiretapping tapes and transcripts. Rubinstein gave Yazhemsky immunity from prosecution and showed Mizrahi the door.
"Any orderly system would have rejected outright a move to grant a criminal policeman immunity. He stole not only the Lieberman wiretaps but the wiretaps of all our greatest adversaries," Mizrahi says. "Even before we supposedly issued illegal orders, the man was at work copying from the first transcript!"
In the final report, Rubinstein set Mizrahi a honey trap: He found that there was not enough evidence to place him on either criminal or disciplinary trial, but recommended that he be removed from his post. "Before the report was published," Mizrahi says, "I sent my lawyer to get down on her knees in front of the attorney general - even though she opposed that with all her might - and beg him to place me on disciplinary trial and not to issue a report with that bottom line, which didn't allow me to defend myself in any way. There was also passion and militancy here, disproportionate to what befits an attorney general. Out of a passion for revenge - I can describe it in no other way - he dumped a 70-page public report on my head, with all the details, which, by the way, infringed upon the privacy of a great many people and also affected police intelligence. I was in shock."
In the subtext of his report, Rubinstein implies that you collected material on politicians for extraneous reasons.
"That is in fact more or less the spirit of the thing, even if it was not written in the report. And even though Rubinstein noted over and over in the report that everything was done in good faith and to advance a difficult, complicated investigation. Now, that is pretty stupid. I didn't keep the material in my pocket. Everyone thinks I took it home. It was in the unit, in a safe, as material to be worked with, and it was later taken to the Fraud Unit for the investigation, with Rubinstein's knowledge.
"You know, the investigation of Lieberman and of others, like Appel, was into their political activities - into the use of politics as corrupting and corrupt. That is what we investigated and those were the grounds [for wiretapping] we cited in court. We declared that in court fully."
Rubinstein claimed you transcribed intimate conversations and that an intrusive surveillance was kept of Lieberman's meetings .
"Yes, that was convenient in order to give the report heft. And I say to you here, publicly: Not a single intimate conversation was transcribed from the wiretapping of Lieberman. Period. I don't know what made Rubinstein's hair stand on end, but it stood on end for other reasons, which had nothing to do with me and nothing to do with the wiretapping of Lieberman. Second, when Rubinstein came to the [Knesset] Constitution, Law and Justice Committee to explain the report, he was silent. The MKs turned it into a whole pornographic thing and talked about supposed intimate photographs and intimate surveillance. It was all without any foundation: There was no intimate surveillance. There was surveillance of Lieberman, and that included everyone who met with him. And if people were badly and unnecessarily hurt, including Lieberman himself, that is due to the unbridled publication of 70 detailed pages. If there had really been something to it, I should have been placed on criminal trial without even a minute's delay."
Still, the High Court of Justice backed Rubinstein's decision.
"It's forgotten that the petition was against the attorney general for not placing me on criminal or disciplinary trial, and the High Court accepted that in full and backed him in that first of all. Regarding Justice Eliyahu Mazza's question as to whether there had not been prima facie negligence in carrying out the task, the fact is that before the report appeared we demanded that the attorney general place me on disciplinary trial and give me a proper platform to defend myself, but he refused. He apparently had very good reasons for that."
Season of the moles
There are worrying similarities between the Nimrodi and Lieberman affairs. In both of them, suspects collaborated with moles in units that you commanded. Someone told me that "Just for that, Mizrahi had to go."
"Maybe he is right, in quotation marks. In my first year in SICU, I understood what we were up against: people who could buy my unit with small change, powerful, influential people, some of whom could channel you forward or backward. Go cope with people like that. Together with the head of the Investigations Branch at the time, Sando Mazor, I initiated a meeting with a senior Shin Bet [security service] man with the thought of doing security screening and setting up strict tests for the unit's staff. My people weren't eager for that and the Shin Bet didn't want to expand its testing."
Is it the wretched salary that motivated the appearance of moles in the top police units?
"I don't know - our pay isn't as bad as in the republics of the former Soviet Union, where there is no doubt that a direct link exists between the substandard pay and the corruption. But there are very worrisome signs here, because there is more and more of it, even at the very sensitive junctions. Look who we were dealing with. Nimrodi was ready to pay a witness $600,000 to testify on his behalf. For a tape he paid $400,000, and another $68,000 for VAT. When I took Lerner off the plane, he had in his suitcase a billion dollars in securities made out to the bearer."
The politicians say the police make excessive use of wiretaps. Israel has the same amount of wiretapping as Britain, whose population is 10 times larger.
"That's nonsense. I think that statistic is being used improperly. Besides, if our government would act like the government of Tony Blair did, and instead of making whining speeches to us (such as Sharon's talk to the top police brass while he was under investigation) would allocate us thousands of policemen, etc., then maybe we could use less drastic means. How do you go after someone like Lerner, who walks around with two suitcases of satellite phones and also makes his local calls via satellite from within a house with a wall around it, and calls in experts who formerly worked in our institutions to check whether he is being bugged twice a week? If you don't offer an alternative that will minimize the need to make use of such drastic means, don't be surprised that we rely on them. The police today don't even have the ability to protect witnesses, in cases when there are witnesses. So how do you make comparisons with a country like Britain?"
The police have had suspicions of Lieberman for nearly 10 years, but with one minor exception, no criminal procedure against the man has been implemented. There is something distorted here, don't you agree?
"I was in the Knesset recently as a civilian, and an MK asked me, rightly, that same question, because on the surface it looks like the police are out to get Lieberman. I replied that when serious, complex and extensive intelligence material is accumulated by the police, it has to be examined. Take Ze'ev Rosenstein [a major drug trafficker, now serving a prison sentence in Israel after conviction in a U.S. court] - not that I am saying that Lieberman is Rosenstein, heaven forbid, but I am drawing a parallel. Do you know the last time Rosenstein was in jail? It was many years ago, and it was only recently that the investigative process against him was completed. Still, over those long years, the Israel Police listed him as its number-one target. The man was arrested and interrogated dozens of times, but I didn't hear that this bothered the MK, or you. No one asked why so many years had passed since the police caught Rosenstein, yet he was still listed as target number one."
We deserve Gaydamak
It was Gideon Ezra, the public security minister at the time, and Menachem Mazuz, the new attorney general, who implemented Rubinstein's recommendation to oust Mizrahi. The police commissioner, Shlomo Aharonishki held a hearing for Mizrahi and recommended to the public security minister, Tzahi Hanegbi, that he not remove Mizrahi, but rather that he make do with a notation in his personal file. Hanegbi was inclined to accept the recommendation but then had to resign, because of the police investigation (which developed into a trial, still under way) of suspicions he made political appointments when serving in a previous ministerial post. (He was succeeded by Ezra.)
According to Mizrahi, Mazuz acted vigorously to dump him, telling the new commissioner, Moshe Karadi, that Mizrahi had to go and that he would not defend the government in the case of a possible High Court petition against a decision to keep him on.
"When I read that Mazuz said in the Katsav case that the hearing procedure is substantive and not merely a technicality, I say, Mr. Mazuz, if it is substantive, I went through that substantive procedure for two long months with the police commissioner, who decided [against removing me]. So why didn't you respect that substantive procedure instead of intervening without my knowledge behind the scenes?"
Shortly after Gideon Ezra took over as public security minister, he asked Mizrahi to meet him one evening in a police station. Ezra took a folded note out of his pocket, unfolded it, and read out a statement removing Mizrahi as head of the Investigations Branch. "I said, 'Tell me, do you believe this with all your heart? Is this really you? We know each other from before,'" Mizrahi recalls. "Gideon Ezra replied positively and immediately added, 'But the attorney general is with me on this.' I said, 'I understand everything.'"
His last three years in uniform, Mizrahi spent in the Community and Civil Guard Department, far from the spotlight.
It's a little funny to move to that department from Investigations, no?
Not at all. I took matters in hand, and believe me when I tell you that it was a pleasure to spend my final days in the system working there. Community policing is a flagship the police force has been talking about for 20 years now, without being able to successfully get it launched."
Now, at age 57, Mizrahi finds himself retired and spending long hours with his 1-year-old daughter, whose name is - hold onto your seats - Tohar ("purity").
Even after Mizrahi was made head of the community policing department, the attacks on him did not cease. Testifying before the commission that investigated the events during the evacuation of the settlement of Amona, Ezra called him "an emissary of the left" who leaks information to the media. Mizrahi said nothing.
Today, Mizrahi says that he doesn't blame Ezra. "I blame whoever in my estimation pushed him to do it. A week before that, there was an interview with the incoming head of Investigations Branch, Yohanan Danino. He was asked a lot of tough questions, and throughout the interview Danino seemed to be taking aim at me. I assume that even before the piece was published he ran to Ezra, whining. It's a habit, you know, to be tied to apron strings. So Danino ran and the minister went ape. There was no reason for that attack. You can say I leak things, say what you want, fine. But where did the leftist stuff come from? What does it have to do with being leftist?"
Mizrahi still fumes at the allegations of politicization, especially when they come from Ezra, who immediately after Mizrahi's removal rushed proudly to tell the Likud Central Committee what he had wrought. "That is one of the more dangerous allegations I identified," Mizrahi says, "as though [the law-enforcement system] is pressuring one side of the political map. The Likud Central Committee, which gave Ezra an ovation, seemed to identify the law- enforcement system, or Mizrahi, as the enemy. That is a hallucinatory, nutty and dangerous way of thought. If it's true, we might as well close down, because it really is the Third World.
"But that is dumb, because where do you find corruption? You find it in those who are the hub of decision-making, those who hold the reins, who can make things change and return favors. The Likud was in power for many years, and now you find that those who left the Likud for Kadima and are in power are now the subjects of investigation. Do you see the Likud members who are in the opposition being investigated for corruption?"
The investigations against Lieberman, Lerner's conviction and Mizrahi's investigation of the tycoon Mikhail Chernoy led to violent verbal attacks on Mizrahi from MKs who claimed he was forcing Russian capital out of the country. "The oligarchs did not interest us as such. We were interested in oligarchs linked to crime or who headed crime syndicates. When people claimed we were stigmatizing Russian businessmen and forcing them out, I would always reply, 'Go to the minister, or to the person himself, and ask him about these names. I want him to say sincerely that they are [just] businessmen.' They never came back with a response."
Mizrahi says that during his period as head of the Investigations Branch one would never have seen Arcadi Gaydamak, another so-called oligarch, driving through the streets of Jerusalem in an open car alongside the city's mayor.
What do you think of the Gaydamak phenomenon?
"I think we have it coming to us. To say that I enjoy it? No way. But in our present reality, we deserve it, apparently, and in a big way."
The Greek Island disgrace
Mizrahi encountered current Investigations Branch chief Yohanan Danino and Attorney General Mazuz, the two officials who are supposed to be the key players in the war against public corruption, in the "Greek Island" affair, in which Ariel Sharon was suspected of having taken a bribe from businessman David Appel. Mizrahi was still head of Investigations, Danino was head of SICU, Mazuz had just been appointed attorney general.
One meeting in Mazuz's office about the case has still not been deleted from Mizrahi's hard disk, mainly because of Danino's behavior. "It was the first formal meeting about the case with the new attorney general," Mizrahi recalls. "Danino and I were there with the investigative team and the senior prosecution attorneys. Mazuz asked Danino for a chronological survey of the affair, and wonder of wonders, his first words, which I heard directly for the first time in my life, were that there is no evidence in this case. I fell off my chair! That came out of the blue.
"Mazuz said, I asked for a chronology, not a eulogy. Mazuz only wanted to hear about a time frame, but Danino couldn't even stammer that properly. Everyone there was flabbergasted. I barked at him for saying that. It was totally hallucinatory, because we had never expressed an opinion until then, not he and not I, about the evidence in the case; our part took the form of discussions with the prosecution and bringing evidence and analyzing it there. In connection with that occasion, everyone can go take a polygraph. Well, in the long run, you can't say that this approach did not serve certain people."
You will agree with me that the Greek Island investigation was conducted poorly.
"I can agree that it was not our finest hour."
You were head of Investigations, so why wasn't there a more intensive investigation? Is it your failure?
"'Failure' is a far-reaching word. I admit that I had a serious problem. I was under investigation at the same time by the PID, which also questioned SICU personnel. It was hard for me to control the investigation tightly, to do what I always did when I saw that things weren't being done properly - to take it over myself, and we would finish in a month what would take months.... To my great regret, I wasn't able to behave like that, other than one time, when I had to use it as a threat so the investigation would be conducted properly and in the time required."
Mizrahi has little good to say about Danino, the current Investigations chief, or about Attorney General Mazuz, who always looks for the smoking gun and the sure-fire conviction: "In a [press] interview after my removal, Mazuz was asked how he could have lent a hand to my ouster. He replied, 'Look there are many who say that in his period corruption increased incalculably. If corruption increases during my term I will see that as a failure, even if I have done everything to fight it.'
"When I read that," Mizrahi continues, "I said to myself that the man apparently doesn't understand what corruption is. With corruption there are no complainants, no victims, no witnesses, or if there are, they throw themselves on the fence and take the rap instead of their bosses. There are no smoking guns in these cases. The days when people stuffed envelopes filled with money into the pockets of public officials are long past. Today there are other tricks, the favors received are different and they cross borders. Look at all the affairs of the past decade and more: You will see Israel Police Tours, because you have to travel to the ends of the earth to wrap up the investigation. It's not easy."
In the end, Mazuz accepted Danino's position and closed the case against Sharon for lack of evidence.
"When the legal opinion was published, you needed to pour a lot of bleach into the investigative material for the report to come out like that. Anyone who is familiar with the material would not have been able to identify it in the attorney general's report. The attorney general, for example, quotes a witness who says that Gilad Sharon [Ariel Sharon's son] was given the job [by David Appel] because of his talent. But if you read the continuation of the witness' sentence, you find that he adds that the whole matter of the contract with Appel was absurd in terms of the size of the payment. I ask Mazuz: Why don't you go two more lines down? Why doesn't he give that to the public? Where is the whole picture, which truly appalled us? So if they closed the case, well and good, and I certainly don't have the status to object to that. But the way they closed it is a milestone in the history of the law-enforcement system."
Was there any special difficulty in questioning the Sharon family?
"Definitely. That is a period that I am happy has passed. There was interference in all kinds of places, unlike the past. There was always interference, but not like that. Not with such force. Those were the days of the Likud Central Committee - the public elections of the political appointees. There was a kind of Byzantine court, very small and closed, that influenced almost every aspect of our lives. That is not proper in a democracy and it had an effect that I hope we will not have to endure again for many years."
Are you against the decision by the justice minister to allow former MK Naomi Blumenthal - whose case you handled - to do public service instead of going to jail?
"She committed very serious offenses - the favors to the activists, the attempts to obstruct the investigation, the denial - but she learned from bigger experts. Why blame her? The public now says: She fell victim of her folly. They caught the patsy and the smart guys escape and go elsewhere. That must not be a calculation in the final weighing of the seriousness of the events, because in that case we will never have deterrence. At the same time, when you look at the personal circumstances, and when I look at her, at that unfortunate woman, who used her own money to do it and all kinds of associations and donors with interests from the right and from the left, the feeling is that justice will be better served if she does not serve time but does public service, like [Haim] Ramon."
But then Omri Sharon [Ariel Sharon's other son, who has been convicted of illegally raising campaign funds] will say: My father is hovering between life and death, so let me off, too.
"That's a different kettle of fish. There is no connection between that affair, even slightly, and the Naomi Blumenthal case. I am talking about the intensity of it in the case of Sharon, the systematic nature, the amounts, where the money came from, the falsifications and the checks, this grocery store way of managing things. Do you think it was for no reason that they wanted a plea bargain in that case?" W