Police arrested two former senior army officers Wednesday morning on suspicion of obstructing justice in relation to the “Harpaz affair,” a scandal involving backbiting over the nominee for army chief of staff in 2011.
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Brig. Gen. (res.) Avi Benayahu, a former Israel Defense Forces spokesman, and Col. (res.) Erez Weiner, a senior aide to Gabi Ashkenazi during his term as IDF chief of staff are suspected of conspiracy to commit a crime, fraud and breach of trust, destroying evidence and embezzlement. At their remand hearing in the Rishon Letzion Magistrate’s Court on Wednesday, a police representative said they were arrested on the basis of new evidence discovered during the ongoing investigation of the case. The new evidence wasn’t examined “during the state comptroller’s probe or any other [previous] probe” of this affair, he said.
The court remanded Benayahu and Weiner until 8 P.M. on Thursday. Ashkenazi is expected to be questioned in the case later this week.
Lt. Col. (res.) Boaz Harpaz, the former officer who lends his name to the Harpaz affair,” was arrested Tuesday on suspicion of obstructing an investigation, forgery, abetting breach of trust, invasion of privacy and conspiracy to commit a crime. The Rishon Letzion Magistrate’s Court put him under house arrest for 10 days.
Police are expected to investigate other suspects in the obstruction of justice case in the coming days.
The Harpaz affair began with a document that was forged, allegedly by Harpaz, with the goal of smearing Maj. Gen. (res.) Yoav Galant, one of the leading candidates to succeed Ashkenazi as chief of staff. The affair — which later expanded into a broader inquiry into the tense relationship between Ashkenazi and then-Defense Minister Ehud Barak — includes suspicions that close associates of Ashkenazi, including Harpaz and Weiner were digging for dirt about Barak, with or without Ashkenazi’s knowledge.
In response to the latest developments in the case, Ashkenazi’s spokesman said, “[Ashkenazi] isn’t familiar with the details of the investigation, but knows very well that Brig. Gen. Benayahu and Col. Weiner did their jobs as outstanding, honest and law-abiding officers. Therefore, Lt. Gen. (res.) Ashkenazi is convinced the investigation will end in nothing.”
In their request to remand Benayahu and Weiner, police wrote that the two men, in conjunction with others, are suspected of having worked to gather and disseminate dirt about fellow officers and politicians. In the process, they allegedly committed a long list of crimes, including obstructing justice and destroying evidence.
Among other things, police said, the former officers illegally retained material classified as “secret,” “top secret” and even higher and passed top-secret material to an unauthorized party. Classified material was found on the suspects’ computers, which endangered the public’s security, police said.
“In our understanding, based on the material presented to the court, there isn’t a shadow of a doubt that substantive evidence exists that these crimes were committed,” Superintendent Dubi Shertzer, the police representative, said at the remand hearing. “I can say with absolute certainty that the suspects worked to obstruct the investigation and to actively destroy evidence, and therefore, there’s no room for doubt about the need to remand them.”
Benayahu described himself to the court as “a 54-year-old man who finds it hard to hear that he’s a danger to the public’s security.” “I devoted most of my adult life to the public’s security. I stand here as part of a case I was involved in against my will. I’m a law-abiding man,” he said. “I’m happy about the investigation, but would like to point out that it’s being conducted on only half the playing field,” a reference to the fact that Barak and his former aides are not suspects in the case.
“Everything was destroyed, including on the other side, and I can only regret that,” he said, referring primarily to tapes of conversations between the bureaus of Barak and Ashkenazi.
Though both bureaus taped the conversations, the tapes from Barak’s bureau were lost or erased. The state comptroller concluded that the loss was accidental.
Benayahu told the court that one document he had been shown Wednesday was the transcript of a conversation between he and his successor as IDF spokesman, Lior Lotan. “I called to congratulate him. This conversation was shown to me, and it was classified as ‘secret.’ This was an administrative call; it involved no secret, not even a trace of a secret. I am not a criminal,” he said.
In their remand request, police said they feared that if Benayahu and Weiner were released, they would conceal more evidence, attempt to influence witnesses or otherwise continue obstructing justice. “By their acts, the suspects have proven that they are dangerous to the public welfare,” the police wrote.
Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein ordered the police to begin investigating the Harpaz affair on August 1, 2013. About two months ago, the police team investigating the case said it had finished studying all the material provided by the IDF and would soon begin questioning the people involved.
In a brief to the High Court of Justice in response to a petition about the investigation, prosecutors said they would probably question Barak, Ashkenazi, Weiner, who served as Ashkenazi’s liaison to Harpaz, and others.
Weinstein has voiced displeasure over the slow pace of the probe to date. An indictment against Harpaz on forgery charges has been frozen since the summer of 2010, first because the state comptroller launched his own investigation into the Harpaz affair and then because the military advocate general urged Weinstein to order a broader criminal probe. Weinstein has said he wants the case finally concluded in the next few months.