Israeli Police Were Barred From Questioning Netanyahu, Wife Simultaneously

Attorney General Mendelblit denied the detectives' request to question the couple at the same time in order to prevent them from coordinating their testimony.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) and his wife Sara during a tour of the temples in the city of Kyoto, Japan.
Kobi Gideon, GPO

The attorney general refused to allow police to question Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara simultaneously in the perks-from-businessmen case, which detectives had requested to prevent the couple from coordinating their testimony, Haaretz has learned.

As a result of Avichai Mendelblit’s refusal, the two were questioned in the case a few days apart.

One of the most basic rules in criminal investigations is that people suspected of collaborating in a crime must be questioned simultaneously, albeit separately, to prevent them from coordinating their versions of events. A police source hinted this week that the strange decision not to do so in the Netanyahus’ case was not made by the investigating team. When asked who had made the decision, the source said, “The attorney general makes all the decisions regarding Netanyahu and his wife.”

Further investigation shows that the order not to question the two simultaneously had indeed come from Mendelblit. The reason, according to a legal source, was that the testimony given by film producer Arnon Milchan regarding the gifts and benefits allegedly bestowed on the Netanyahus was regarded as so strong that Mendelblit saw no reason to question them at the same time.

But Nahum Levy, who was the police commander who led the team that questioned the Netanyahus simultaneously about 1999 allegations that they paid for private expenses with public funds and took official gifts without permission, dismissed the legal source’s defense of Mendelblit’s decision. Levy called the decision to question the two separately in this instance a “celebrity discount.”

“During the investigation of the Cremieux house case [in which Ehud Olmert was alleged to have been sold an apartment at a significantly reduced price to boost marketing of a housing project], his wife Aliza wasn’t a suspect but we needed her testimony,” recalled Levy, who headed that investigation as well. “We questioned Ehud in one room of the Balfour Street [Prime Minister’s] residence, and Aliza in another at the same time. This is a method aimed at preventing obstruction of justice and coordinating testimonies.

“I’m seeing that during this investigation of Netanyahu there hasn’t been a single simultaneous interrogation – not of the Netanyahu family members who live in the same house, nor in the [Arnon] Mozes and Netanyahu case,” he said, referring to Case 2000, in which Mozes and Netanyahu allegedly discussed trading favorable coverage for Netanyahu by Mozes’ paper, Yedioth Ahronoth, for Netanyahu’s efforts to curb the commercial activity of rival daily Israel Hayom.

Former police investigations division head Moshe Mizrahi also had a hard time understanding why the Netanyahus, who were allegedly involved in the same events, had not been questioned simultaneously. The police said in response, “We do not intend to address professional judgment and the investigation procedures in the media.”

The connecting thread

The cases known as Case 1000 (the perks case) and Case 2000 (the Mozes-Netanyahu case) seemed to be separate cases at first, but there are hints that the two may be linked, with Milchan possibly playing a role in both of them. Guy Peleg of Channel 2 News reported that one of the things Netanyahu had promised Mozes was help in finding a business partner – which may be Milchan’s connection to the second case.

Over the weekend, meanwhile, there appeared to be efforts to prepare the public for the closing of the Mozes-Netanyahu case. Veteran Channel 2 News journalist Amnon Abramovitch hinted at this when he said that the Justice Ministry was relating to the case as a “workshop in law and the media,” stressing that this was not his opinion but reflected things he’d been told.

“It’s a clumsy attempt to assure a soft landing,” a former law enforcement source told Haaretz. “There have been tricks like this pulled in the past before a decision to close a big case, like the Greek Island affair [involving Ariel Sharon] or [the corruption cases against Defense Minister Avigdor] Lieberman. But since when does that happen when the investigation is still going on?

Where’s the state prosecutor?

No one observing the developments in the Netanyahu cases is even mentioning State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan’s name. That’s no coincidence. In contrast to his predecessors, who played dominant roles in cases against top officials – Edna Arbel during Netanyahu’s previous round in the 1990s, Eran Shendar against former Justice Minister Haim Ramon and Olmert, Moshe Lador against Olmert and former President Moshe Katsav – the state prosecutor has been totally absent from public view in the investigations of the prime minister.

“Nitzan has abandoned the arena to Mendelblit,” a senior police official told one of his colleagues. “He’s cooperating with the attorney general on everything and his influence in minimal.”

It could be that Nitzan’s basic instincts are telling him that it’s better to be at the forefront of issues that don’t undermine power structures. In the past he was recruited to defend the plea agreement offered to Katsav, trying to cast doubt on the complainants’ credibility; later, with great skill and talent, he composed a post-modernist document designed to extract Lieberman from the straw companies affair, in which several businessmen allegedly transferred millions of dollars to companies owned by Lieberman when he was an MK and minister.

It’s not all money

From his conversations with the prime minister, in which he promised to make every effort so that Netanyahu – whom his paper had been repeatedly criticizing – would stay in power for as long as he wanted, Arnon Mozes looks like a man motivated solely by financial considerations, one who sees his media properties as pawns on a chessboard.

But from the discussions sparked by the revelations of Yedioth’s blacklists and white-lists there’s been a critical element missing, which sheds light on this enigmatic figure. Since the middle of the last decade, Mozes has been targeting an important institution: the Supreme Court. His newspaper has spearheaded the struggle to shatter the court’s activist legacy instilled by former Supreme Court President Aharon Barak.

Around a year ago, Haaretz’s weekend supplement published a story about the Supreme Court. Among other things, it told of how in 2006, on the eve of Dorit Beinisch’s appointment as court president, Mozes met with Meir Sheetrit, then acting justice minister in Ehud Olmert’s government. The publisher urged Sheetrit to change the system by which seniority determines succession as Supreme Court president, the purpose being to prevent Beinisch from succeeding Barak. (Mozes denied this; Sheetrit refused to comment.)

Although Sheetrit categorically refused Mozes’ request, Yedioth Ahronoth continued to try and turn the court into a more conservative institution that would not intervene in government decisions, providing enthusiastic support for justice ministers who tried to overturn the worldview of Barak and Beinisch, primarily Daniel Friedmann and Ayelet Shaked. This disturbing chapter nevertheless indicates that Mozes also can be motivated by ideology.