Israel's Justice Minister Amir Ohana used his immunity as a Knesset member on Wednesday to reveal the interrogation method used on a state's evidence in a corruption case involving Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Israel Police imposed a gag order on the interrogation ploy on Tuesday, just as Channel 12 News were about to publish it earlier this week.
"According to several reports, they [put] Nir Hefetz in his holding cell all stung and begging to see a doctor," Ohana said at the Knesset. "Then they bring in a young woman who has nothing to do with the prime minister's investigation, and ask her a series of intrusive questions on the nature of the relationship between the witness and her."
Ohana then said that after the questioning, police had Hefetz and the woman meet in the hall and then told the former: "Nir, we know everything. We'll drop a bomb on your family." The justice minister then claimed this led Hefetz to "yield," sign the state's evidence agreement and deliver a testimony to the police that did not withstand scrutiny.
"He's then taken out with one of the investigators, they leave for an undocumented period of time and we don't know what went on in that conversation, and then he comes back and gives a full version, tailor-made, that perfectly matches the evidence the police have," Ohana said.
Last week, Ohana attacked the attorney general, the state prosecutor and the State Prosecutor’s Office over their handling of the Netanyahu cases, saying there was a “prosecutor’s office within the State Prosecutor’s Office” that destroys the careers of politicians and other public figures."
In response to Ohana's remarks, Kahol Lavan tweeted that he had decided to be "Netanyahu's justice minister and not the justice minister of the State of Israel."
On Tuesday, Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit vowed on to address any improper actions during Hefetz's investigation, if such actions had taken place.
Mendelblit's remarks came in response to a report by Chanel 12's Amit Segal that Hefetz had repeatedly changed his story when questioned about Netanyahu’s criminal cases and described incidents that never happened. The report also claimed that police used inappropriate means to pressure Hefetz and advised him to change lawyers.
Mendelblit wrote that a distinction had to be made between claims that someone who turned state’s evidence didn’t tell the truth and “claims of improper actions during the investigation. If it is found that anything improper was done in handling these cases, this will be examined and dealt with as necessary.”
He wrote that he was confident that police investigators made it clear to the witnesses “that they are required to tell nothing but the truth,” and that all those who turned state’s evidence had given their information “freely and voluntarily.”
Police barred Channel 12 from publishing additional information on Monday about Hefetz’s testimony in the Bezeq-Walla case, and the restrictions still stand. The network is also not allowed to cite the reason for the gag order.
What can be published, however, is that the information in the report relates to an unusual police tactic that involves taking a statement from someone with no connection to the case under investigation. Mendelblit confirmed to Channel 12 that he was unaware that this had been done.
Addressing allegations that they applied improper pressure on Hefetz, the Israel Police said in a statement that all of their actions, including summoning witnesses were, were carried out in accordance with investigative needs, the law and legal instructions."
Furthermore, the police said that their investigative actions are examined in advance by the relevant professionals, who are guided by strict legal criteria, and called reports on the matter "bits and pieces of information," which cause "a complete distortion of reality."
Sources involved in Hefetz's investigation told Haaretz that the investigative tactics employed were "legitimate," adding that the Tel Aviv District Attorney's Office Taxation and Economics didn't know about them in real time, but were notified about them a long time ago.
In the Bezeq-Walla case, Netanyahu is suspected of conferring regulatory benefits on Bezeq, a major telecommunications company, in exchange for favorable coverage on its internet news site, Walla.
Judge David Rozen, the prosecution’s ombudsman recommended in a letter on Tuesday that Mendelblit open a criminal investigation into the cops who leaked material from Netanyahu’s cases to the media before it was handed over to his defense attorneys.
“Leaks from interrogation rooms and state agencies have become a widespread problem, and it seems it wouldn’t be ridiculous to say it’s become a plague,” Rozen wrote. “It’s clear to everyone that publication of the draft indictment before it has been submitted, or publication of material from the investigation, is intolerable.”
Rozen sent his letter after Mendelblit rejected a request by Netanyahu’s defense team to launch a criminal investigation into the leaks.
Mendelblit’s aide, Gil Limon defended that decision in a letter in which he wrote that the attorney general had based his decision in part on “the special nature and complexity of investigations of this kind,” as well as “the possibility that journalistic immunity applies, and in light of the large number of people exposed to the information.”
Because no specific individual is suspected of being the leaker, any investigation would lead to many people being unfairly suspected and to “the use of intrusive investigative tactics against them,” Limon said. For this reason, and also because there is no vital public interest at stake, it would be unjustified to subject law enforcement officials to polygraph tests.
He cited freedom of the press, freedom of expression and the public’s right to know, “which are among the fundamental principles of a democratic system of government,” as additional reasons not to investigate the leaks.
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