After Cabinet Rejects State Inquiry, Comptroller's Office Say Wiretap Probe May Take Up to 9 Months

A state comptroller's investigation into the use of wiretaps, which the cabinet requested yesterday, will take seven to nine months, officials in State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss' office estimated yesterday.

The cabinet voted for this comprehensive probe of the police and the prosecution's handling of wiretaps, which will include an investigation of "complaints raised on this matter in recent years," as an alternative to Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann's proposal to set up a governmental inquiry committee on misconduct in the 2006 trial of minister Haim Ramon - specifically, with respect to the failure to give him transcripts of wiretaps related to his case, or even to inform him of the wiretaps' existence.

The investigation will be headed by the deputy director general of the State Comptroller's Office, Boaz Aner, whose department recently concluded an inquest into appointments and promotions in the police.

Aner's team is expected to spend about three months collecting documents and hearing testimony on wiretaps. It will then spend about two months writing an initial draft of its report. Anyone liable to be hurt by the report's findings will then have about two months to respond, after which the task force will draft its final version of the report - which could take as long as another two months.

Thus the final report will almost certainly not be submitted before March or April 2009, by which time - given the political upheavals caused by the ongoing police investigations against Prime Minister Ehud Olmert - the government that requested the report may no longer be in power.

The last comptroller's investigation into police wiretaps was conducted by Lindenstrauss' predecessor, Eliezer Goldberg, between August 2002 and June 2003. That probe examined 206 cases from among some 2,400 wiretaps, conducted in 2001-02. It concluded that wiretaps were an essential tool in the war on crime, but found numerous flaws in the way police dealt with wiretapping in practice - from excessively vague requests to the courts for permission to wiretap a suspect, to the transcription of numerous conversations that were irrelevant to investigations, and should thus not have been transcribed.

In response to that report, the police made major changes in its procedures for dealing with wiretaps.