Ex-Mossad Chief Under Attorney General Scrutiny Over Ethics, Security Claims

Complaints against Yossi Cohen include a cash gift from billionaire James Packer, his involvement in a business dispute over the Kia franchise in Israel, and his alleged disclosure of state secrets to a flight attendant

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Former Mossad head Yossi Cohen.
Former Mossad head Yossi Cohen. Credit: David Bachar

Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit is examining several complaints against former Mossad head Yossi Cohen involving possible breaches of ethics and information security, Haaretz has learned. Cohen's term as Mossad chief ended in June.

The first complaint involves Cohen’s receipt in 2016, during his term as Mossad chief, of $20,000 from Australian billionaire businessman James Packer and failure to report the gift. The incident was revealed in Haaretz by Gidi Weitz.

Public servants are prohibited from accepting large gifts except in exceptional cases, and all such gifts must be reported. One of the criteria determining the legality of a gift is the relationship between the giver and the recipient, which must be completely separate from the recipient’s public position.

In an interview with Ilana Dayan on the “Uvda” investigative TV program last month, Cohen called the gift, which Packer gave him at the wedding of Cohen’s daughter, “an honest mistake” made in good faith, and said he planned to repay Packer.

Mendelblit is also looking into Cohen’s past involvement in a business dispute between vehicle importers Rami Ungar and Michael Levy over the Kia franchise in Israel. Cohen’s involvement was disclosed in testimony by Aviram Halevi, a former deputy commander of Sayeret Matkal, the elite special-operations force of the General Staff of the Israel Defense Forces. Halevi told the court that when Cohen was deputy chief of Mossad, Cohen asked him to meet with Avigdor Klagsbald, a lawyer representing Ungar.

It also emerged that from 2011-13, Ungar donated 1.1 million shekels (nearly $300,000) toward the construction of a synagogue across from Cohen’s home.

The nonprofit Hatzlaha – the Movement for the Promotion of a Fair Society, recently wrote to Mendelblit and the Mossad’s legal adviser, requesting the conflict-of-interest agreements drawn up for Cohen during his time at the Mossad. The group noted that, “Both [the gift from Packer and the Ungar-Levy dispute] took place while Cohen was in his Mossad position and raise prima facie serious questions about propriety, motives and suspicion of legal breaches.” The organization added, “If there were no conflict-of-interest documents arranged for Cohen, we want to know why not.”

A security source told Haaretz that Cohen had a conflict-of-interest arrangement drawn up when he was appointed national security adviser, in 2013, but was not asked to update it since then. The legal advisers of the Mossad and of the Prime Minister’s Office are responsible for conflict-of-interest arrangements for senior Mossad officials.

A third complaint being examined by Mendelblit concerns an affair reported Monday by journalist Raviv Drucker on Channel 13 News. According to the report, Cohen shared classified information with a flight attendant with whom he had a close personal relationship for the past two years. Responding to the report, Cohen told Channel 13 that he had “not committed any information security offenses, there is no flight attendant and no close contact. The attorney general has not contacted me regarding any complaint.”

Mendelblit is also examining claims that Cohen disclosed classified information in his interview with Ilana Dayan.

During the interview, which was approved by the military censor, Cohen detailed Mossad operations, including the theft of Iran’s military nuclear archive in 2018. These complaints were submitted by Yossi Langotsky, a former senior intelligence official, and Yonatan Arnon, a former Mossad operative.

In a response, the Justice Ministry said the complaints regarding Cohen “were being examined as is customary.”

Cohen said that the attorney general has not contacted him about the complaints.

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