Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's personal lawyer Yossi Cohen filed on Wednesday a request with the Justice Ministry’s department calling on police officials to "immediately launch a serious investigation” to expose officers who spoke to the media about a possible new criminal investigation against him.
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The department would have to conclude whether the remarks constitute a criminal offense, but it is highly unlikely to launch an investigation as no clear threat was made, despite Netanyahu’s claims. The prosecution tends to avoid investigations into leaks to the media, and particularly when the remarks in question don't deal with an ongoing investigation.
A Channel 12 News report on Monday quoted unnamed senior police sources responding to Netanyahu's scathing criticism at the start of his trial Sunday of law enforcement and the press, in which he claimed the charges were rigged.
“Netanyahu’s baseless claims show more about him than about the investigators and prosecutors,” the report quoted the sources as saying. Referring to the police serious crimes special unit, Lahav 433, they said investigators “did outstanding work and ignored all the pressure put on them. They will act in the same manner if the attorney general decides to open an additional investigation against Netanyahu on his stock file. He will be treated with respect, like he was in previous investigations – but not with leniency.”
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Attorney Yossi Cohen argued in his letter to the Justice Ministry that the remarks made by the police sources, which he said "befit criminals," could have severe consequences "to the police's image and to public trust in it."
Denying an investigation into this matter would "convey the message that police officers are above the law… which goes against the essence of democracy," Cohen added, issuing a 14-day ultimatum before possibly taking the department to court.
On Tuesday, Israel's new Public Security Minister, Amir Ohana, asked the acting police commissioner to “use every means” to uncover the senior police sources quoted in the Channel 12 report. Ohana, who was justice minister in the caretaker government and is known as a Netanyahu staunch loyalist, called on Motti Cohen in a letter to use of lie detector testing and telephone calling data, to identify them.
The comments in the Channel 12 report made reference to suggestions of improprieties in connection with Netanyahu’s alleged ownership of shares in the Sea Drift steel company controlled by his cousin, Nathan Milikowsky.
In his letter to the acting police commissioner, Ohana called the comments a “cowardly message,” and concluded that finding the sources will send a “loud and clear message that you [Cohen] are not prepared to accept such conduct on the part of senior officials of the Israel Police with indifference.”
In the coming months, Ohana is expected to appoint a permanent head of the police and Cohen is one of the candidates under consideration.
A statement issued on the prime minister's behalf following the report called it an “anonymous threat by police investigators to open another baseless investigation” and an “attempt to silence none other than the prime minister of Israel.” The statement also said that the sources’ comments were made in response to “the fact that extortion by threats and witness tampering have been uncovered in the investigations.”