Israel's Attorney General Orders Investigation Into Methods Used to Interrogate Netanyahu Associate

Nir Hefetz, the prime minister's former media advisor, turned state's evidence against Netanyahu in the case where he has been charged with quid pro quo with telecom giant Bezeq

Netael Bandel
Netael Bandel
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Nir Hefetz in court in Herzliya, December 2, 2019.
Nir Hefetz in court in Herzliya, December 2, 2019.Credit: Moti Milrod
Netael Bandel
Netael Bandel

Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit and outgoing State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan issued a directive last week to investigate the conduct of the police during their investigation of Nir Hefetz, Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu’s former media adviser.

Hefetz turned state’s evidence against Netanyahu in the case where the prime minister was charged with bribery, fraud and breach of trust for obtaining favorable coverage from Bezeq telecom’s Walla news website in exchange for government regulatory concessions.

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The Israel Police Lahav 443 serious crimes unit’s handling of Hefetz’s interrogation in the case, known as Case 4000, has been the subject of controversy amid allegations that investigators made improper use of the presence of a woman acquainted with Hefetz. The woman was asked about her relationship with Hefetz and the police purportedly arranged a seemingly chance encounter between the two.

Haaretz has learned that last week Mendelblit and Nitzan asked the commander of Lahav 443, Yigal Ben-Shalom, to investigate what occurred on February 21, 2018, who decided on the interrogation approach and why. The two also asked for the police to report what disciplinary action would be taken against that individual, why detectives from the police economic crimes unit did not report this aspect of the interrogation to the State Prosecutor’s Office and why they did not ask the office for permission to make use of this form of questioning.

The prosecutor’s office became aware that the woman was summoned to police headquarters due to information found on her computer relating to Hefetz and was not previously aware of the alleged police ruse.

Mendelblit and Nitzan said the attorney general approved the state’s evidence agreement with Hefetz without being informed of the methods used in the interrogation. A source at the prosecutor’s office said that if police had sought approval for the methods they employed, it would not have been granted.

Nevertheless, Mendelblit has said that the police conduct did not have an impact on Hefetz agreeing to turn state’s evidence of his own free will and that summoning the woman to attempt to determine what was on her computer was legal.

Mendelblit and Nitzan informed Ben-Shalom that they have been receiving an increasing number of reports from senior prosecutors about actions taken by investigators without approval from the prosecutor’s office, and without informing the prosecutors in advance. The conduct has already caused serious damage to pending cases, the two claimed. Mendelblit also asked the commander to draw conclusions regarding the problems in the working relationship between Lahav 443 investigators and the prosecutors.

Details of the interrogation of the woman are subject to a gag order. However, in early November, Justice Minister Amir Ohana invoked his parliamentary immunity and disclosed the means used in the interrogation from the Knesset rostrum, although he has said the information had been previously disclosed.

“Based on various reports, they arrested Nir Hefetz … after he had been bitten [by mosquitos] and was begging for a doctor,” Ohana said. “And then they brought a young woman who was unrelated to the prime minister’s investigation, asking her invasive questions about her relations with the witness [Hefetz].”

Three weeks later Hefetz filed a civil suit against Ohana and businessman and radio commentator Yaakov Bardugo for a total of 1 million shekels ($289,000) for disclosing the methods used in the interrogation. The suit called the disclosure a “character assassination” designed to retract his testimony in the case.

Ohana issued a statement standing by his remarks while a response from Bardugo called the suit baseless.