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Grab for Too Much, You May Get Nothing

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“When you’re in a hole, stop digging,” as the popular saying goes. But when it comes to Israeli criminal investigations, it turns out that it pays big-time to keep digging – sometimes, all the way to the other side.

You could call it the Pinto-Harpaz law. Both Lt. Col. (res.) Boaz Harpaz and Rabbi Yoshiyahu Pinto have been investigated by the police in recent years. In both cases, police recommended indicting them; the prosecution concurred; and indictments were prepared. But in both cases, the indictments were delayed at the last moment by the emergence of a new suspect.

An ordinary suspect tries to escape the tightening noose of the law by making himself small enough to slip through it. That almost never works. But the Pinto-Harpaz method is the opposite: The goal is to inflate the case, in the hope of making the noose big enough for much bigger heads than theirs. Only those at the very top – prime ministers or presidents – are barred from using this trick.

Harpaz and Pinto are similar in their ability to get along with everyone and give the impression that they have the ear of senior officials. Both boast of knowing everyone who is anyone, and both developed networks of connections that made it possible to trade in information. Both have excellent memories for detail, and both scatter grains of fact in their seas of stories. And while they may not have known each other, they effectively created a division of labor: Harpaz would entangle the army in scandal, Pinto the police.

Harpaz’s trial has been on ice for three years now, as new reasons for delay kept emerging. First they waited for then-State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss’ report. Then, when Lindenstrauss failed to finish it before his term ended, they waited for Joseph Shapira to take office, study the material and complete the job. Next, Military Advocate General Danny Efroni looked into possible violations of military law. Then, after having been on the verge of making the opposite decision, Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein suddenly decided to order a broader investigation into the Harpaz case, one that could result in bigger fish becoming criminal suspects – among them, former Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi.

Meanwhile, the direct beneficiary of all this was Harpaz. He’ll stand trial, if at all, only in another several years, by which point he’ll be able to demand that the case be dismissed because it has dragged on for so long.

Essentially, Harpaz inflated the case: All he had to do was make allegations to Lindenstrauss against senior IDF officers. Allegations must be investigated. Investigating takes time, even if the allegations prove baseless. And if they aren’t baseless, perhaps Harpaz will turn from defendant to state’s witness.

Pinto is the new Harpaz. He was suspected of bribing police Brig. Gen. Ephraim Bracha. Bracha reported the attempt, and neither police nor prosecutors bought Pinto’s countercharge that Bracha was corrupt. Whatever claims may have been made about him in the past, in this particular case, they were convinced that the officer’s behavior was exemplary: He, one of Pinto’s disciples, knew he would likely pay with social ostracism, yet he put the obligations of his job first.

An indictment against Pinto was duly prepared. And then Pinto played the expansion card: If the law enforcement system would only play ball, he would give them much bigger heads than Bracha’s.

On hearing this, Weinstein and new State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan should have learned from their experience with Harpaz and told Pinto’s attorneys, “No thanks. We aren’t freezing the indictment. If the defendant wants to demonstrate good citizenship and incriminate senior officers, we’ll grant it due consideration at his sentencing, if he’s convicted. If not, he can take his secrets to his jail cell.”

In fairness, however, Pinto’s situation is more complex than that of Harpaz, since the rabbi is also involved – as a source or witness – in an FBI case in America whose suspect is a congressman.

The Pinto and Harpaz cases also have another common denominator: Yoav Segalovich. As head of the police unit that investigated both men, he recommended indicting both without delay. He also recommended closing the expanded Harpaz investigation, which would have spared the police pointless probes of Ashkenazi, his former aide Erez Weiner and former Defense Minister Ehud Barak that may well drag on for years.

Segalovich’s recommendation was based not only on substance, but also on a doctrine he tried to drum into both police and prosecutors: Time matters. The defense always wants cases to die of old age, or at least fall into a deep sleep. The prosecution needs witnesses with fresh memories.

But Segalovich left his post as head of the police investigations and intelligence unit this summer, and his hand-picked successor, Maj. Gen. Manny Yitzhaki, erred on his very first day on the job: He immediately overturned Segalovich’s recommendation on closing the expanded Harpaz case. That badly undermined the police’s credibility: It’s enough for Segalovich to leave and Yitzhaki to arrive to completely reverse the unit’s stance on a case? It also means the unit is now bogged down in this file.

Had Segalovich remained in that job, he would surely have moved mountains to persuade Weinstein not to accept Pinto’s offer of a deal, but to go ahead and indict him for bribery. Doing anything else, he would doubtless say, would project lack of faith in the police.

And the slide down this slippery slope will be quick: In the next case with a Pinto-like suspect, senior police officers will simply decide not to take the risk: They’ll recommend closing the case. The suspects will deter the police instead of vice versa.

At 8 A.M. yesterday police announced they had cracked a major international drugs- and arms-smuggling ring. But 8 A.M. today is likely to bring them less happy tidings. For the men in blue, it’s likely to be the worst moment since August 2012, when Jerusalem Police Chief Niso Shaham resigned under a cloud due to allegations of having sexually harassed and assaulted female subordinates.

Boaz Harpaz, the alleged forger at the center of the war of the generals. Credit: Alon Ron

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