The state postponed its plea bargain with Rabbi Yoshiyahu Pinto on Monday, after the High Court of Justice blasted the deal that would have let Pinto serve a maximum one-year sentence for trying to bribe a police officer.
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Pinto is charged with trying to bribe senior officer Ephraim Bracha. As part of his plea bargain, Pinto offered to provide evidence that an even more senior officer – Menashe Arviv, the former head of the elite Lahav 433 unit (popularly known as “Israel’s FBI”) – accepted bribes from him. Now, the plea bargain won’t be submitted to the Jerusalem District Court for approval on Wednesday, as previously scheduled.
At Monday’s hearing on two petitions against the plea bargain, Supreme Court Deputy President Miriam Naor blasted the state for letting Pinto “have you by the throat,” and particularly for agreeing that Arviv wouldn’t be questioned until after the plea bargain was signed.
Nevertheless, she noted, the question isn’t whether the deal with Pinto – “which surely isn’t ideal” – is a good one, but whether it’s bad enough to justify court intervention.
Throughout the hearing, Naor pressed the state’s prosecutor, Hani Ofek, as to whether her own impression that Pinto “has you by the throat” was correct. “They don’t say this, but it emerges from between the lines,” Naor commented.
She also pressed Ofek for answers on why the police hasn’t conducted its own investigation of the suspicions against Arviv, or even questioned him.
“It’s natural that you want to see if it’s possible to confirm or refute” the suspicions against Arviv, said Naor, who will become the Supreme Court president in January. “But one of the ways to do this is to interrogate the person involved, and the question is whether this rush to court” – i.e., to approve the plea bargain with Pinto – “isn’t putting the cart before the horse a bit.”
Ofek replied that Pinto’s condition for giving information against Arviv was that Arviv wouldn’t be questioned under caution until Pinto’s plea bargain was settled. Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein agreed to this, she added.
“Why did you agree to such a thing?” Naor demanded. “You aren’t willing to say they have you by the throat! I’ll change the terminology: He dictated this to you ... and if so, tell it like it is.”
Naor said she fully understood the desire to investigate possible misconduct by a senior police officer, but “the fundamental question is how far you can allow someone who is himself a criminal to dictate how the investigation will be conducted, when and how they’ll question this one and that one. I’m asking about the agreement, for instance, that Arviv wouldn’t be questioned until there was a plea bargain. What is this? How do you let a criminal dictate the conduct of the investigation? Perhaps what ought to be done is to question Arviv?”
Justice Elyakim Rubinstein also lambasted the capitulation to Pinto’s demands, pointing out that the indictment against Pinto for bribing Bracha should have given the prosecution strong leverage against him. “The other side also has a throat, and bribery is serious; he has a very strong interest of his own” in cooperating, Rubinstein said.
But Ofek insisted that without the plea bargain, the state “would have lacked the ability to investigate” the suspicions against Arviv. She also said that before the plea bargain was actually signed, police had tried to check the information Pinto gave in exchange, including by questioning other witnesses supplied by Pinto.
Naor then asked why the state couldn’t have insisted on questioning Arviv before signing the plea bargain, but promised it would still sign the deal unless Arviv produced information that completely changed the picture. Ofek reiterated that this was Pinto’s condition, and at that time, “we had no way to conduct any investigation [without Pinto’s help] except on the basis of vague allegations. Those were the constraints.”
This response didn’t satisfy Naor, who said she worried about “future plea bargains, and what message this sends about the boundaries of the permitted and the forbidden. It disturbs me greatly that a criminal is dictating to the police who to question and who not to question.”
The petitions against the deal were filed by two nongovernmental organizations, Ometz and the Movement for Quality Government in Israel.
Meanwhile, associates of Pinto said that two cancerous growths had been discovered in his body recently. He was hospitalized in the Lennox Hill Hospital in Manhattan, but is now at home.
This is the third time Pinto has been diagnosed with cancer, his associates said.
Pinto had been planning to fly to Israel, accompanied by a medical crew, to attend the hearing at which his plea bargain was to be presented in court, but since the state has now postponed the hearing, this plan has been canceled.
His associates quoted him as saying he is “not willing to hear evil spoken of the police and prosecution,” and that “we rely on the Holy One, blessed be He, and trust the justice system to do its work faithfully.”