Law Enforcement Agencies Spar Over Raid of Jailed ex-PM Olmert's Publisher

The raid’s purpose was to collect material from Olmert’s unpublished autobiography, on suspicion that the material had not been submitted to the military censor

Ehud Olmert in court, February 2016.
Gil Yohanan, pool photo

As the parole board met Sunday morning to hear former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s request for early release from prison, a spat erupted between law enforcement agencies over who ordered police to raid the Yedioth Ahronoth publishing house on Thursday.

The raid’s purpose was to collect material from Olmert’s unpublished autobiography, on suspicion that the material had not been submitted to the military censor as required by law.

At Sunday’s hearing, the state opposed Olmert’s request to be paroled after serving two-thirds of his 27-month sentence for corruption, citing both the new suspicions and complaints over his behavior in prison, including speaking disrespectfully to guards and not following instructions. He has been in prison since February 2016.

The spat over the raid began when a defense official said on Sunday that the Defense Ministry’s information security department did not order the raid and did not know about it.

The Israel Police then issued a statement saying the raid was ordered by the Justice Ministry and that the CEO of the publishing house gave officers the requested materials and authorized their removal from the offices.

The state prosecutor’s office issued a denial of the defense official’s claim, saying in a statement that the raid was conducted jointly by the police and the Defense Ministry’s information security department. The statement added that in the meeting during which the raid was approved, defense officials had warned that the classified material Olmert had given the publisher could cause serious harm to national security.

That prompted the defense official to accuse the Justice Ministry of being less than truthful. He said that in the meeting several courses of action were discussed, but no decision was made.

According to the official, the head of the Defense Ministry department, Nir Ben-Moshe, did not know about the raid in advance and learned about it from media reports. Moreover, the official said, Ben-Moshe had no authority to approve such a raid.

Police also raided the home of the book’s editor, Yehuda Yaari, and seized a computer hard drive containing portions of manuscripts by former Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and journalist Ben Caspit. These files have not been examined, but both police and prosecutors stressed that they have no intention of looking at any material not related to Olmert.

The prosecution’s statement said police will examine the drive in the presence of representatives from Yedioth, and will download only the material relevant to Olmert. “The rest of the material will be returned to the publisher, and police will not retain a copy,” it added.

The Olmert material will be sent to Ben-Moshe’s department for an assessment of its level of classification, it said.

The defense official confirmed that the information security department was consulted on whether Olmert’s manuscript could compromise national security.

The raid on Yedioth’s offices in Rishon Letzion was an outgrowth of State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan’s request that police look into whether Olmert had broken the law by giving the publisher classified material without first clearing it with the censor. Olmert was supposed to give his manuscript to his attorney in sealed envelopes, which the attorney was then supposed to give to the Defense Ministry. Instead, the lawyer is suspected of having taken several envelopes straight to the publisher, without the ministry’s approval.

Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit approved the raids on both Yedioth and Yaari’s home.

The prosecution said that in the manuscript, Olmert acknowledges Israel’s responsibility for an incident it has never explicitly confirmed and reveals details about intelligence sources and cooperation with other nations. Nor was this a one-time slip, it added, as he has been warned several times before about allowing classified material to leave his cell.

“Parts of the book deal with sensitive security issues,” the State Prosecutor’s Office said. “There was a recent incident in which one of Olmert’s lawyers was caught leaving prison after a visit with a chapter of the book that discusses a security incident about which the censor had forbidden publication. The chapter includes, among other things, secret operational details that were not approved in the past for publication.”

Olmert argued that he did nothing that hasn’t been done before by another former prime minister, Ehud Barak, who wrote a book detailing similar Israeli actions. The prosecution responded that Barak wasn’t in jail at the time.

Olmert also said that the censor has approved what he wrote. But the censor told police that two chapters of the book haven’t yet been approved.

On Thursday, the parole board rejected prosecutors’ request to postpone Olmert’s hearing in light of the new probe into alleged violations of the censorship law. The chairwoman of the parole board, Judge Rachel Greenberg, deemed the police investigation “insufficient reason to postpone a parole hearing,” adding that the hearing wouldn’t interfere with the probe.