Israel's Anti-corruption Whistle-blower Needs Justice

Rafi Rotem, a senior investigator at the Tax Authority, exposed serious corruption and was fired. He’s still harassed by the police.

Only a few times have I hesitated so much before writing. I hesitate because I'm almost certain that this article will be detrimental to the person it's about. All the same, in an interview in Haaretz's Hebrew edition on June 7, former Attorney General Menachem Mazuz discusses the possibility that organized crime has infected the top of Israel's government bureaucracy.

"The one scandal where it was possible to speak in these terms, making it the most serious corruption scandal in certain respects, is the Tax Authority scandal," Mazuz said. In this scandal, senior Tax Authority officials and former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's bureau chief, Shula Zaken, were convicted of fraud. At issue were bribes for appointing people chosen by outside interests.

Mazuz latter added, "If the process hadn't been cut short in its early stages, within a few years the Tax Authority's upper ranks would have been staffed by people who owed their appointments to outside interests." Mazuz may be troubled by the light punishments meted out in this case, but he's confident the process at the Tax Authority was "cut short" at the start. Can this be true?

What about the case of Rafi Rotem, a senior investigator at the Tel Aviv office of the Tax Authority's customs department, who exposed serious corruption at the authority and was eventually fired. He now wanders around Tel Aviv, persecuted by the police, who harass him every time an article is published about him.

Rotem's case shows that the corruption at the Tax Authority, and more gravely, at the police and State Prosecutor's Office that are linked to it, hasn't been eradicated. The person who exposed the corruption has been punished while the corrupt continue to serve and be promoted. The stables haven't been cleaned out.

The case consists of hundreds of documents, videos and recordings that Rotem sent to the Tel Aviv police and prosecutors, but the case was closed in several hours (before, of course, the material could be perused ). So there are clear concerns that the system is still rotten. A few senior Tax Authority officials have been brought to trial and convicted, but they're just the tip of the iceberg.

Rotem's accusations are much more serious and worrisome. Rotem detailed the apparent cooperation between senior Tax Authority officials and big-time criminals, smugglers and tycoons. Included in this affair is the mysterious death of one of his informers, who Rotem believes was killed after he was exposed by a Tax Authority employee. The police closed the case claiming that it was suicide despite big question marks at the scene of the killing.

Journalists Kalman Liebskind, Moshe Lichtman and Malka Taicher-Miller wrote about Rotem, and Channel 1's TV news program "Mabat Sheni" covered the case. And every time after an article about Rotem was published, the police arrested him.

Rotem was handcuffed and humiliated, beaten and sent to jail, only to be released the next day by the first judge to consider whether to extend his detention. The police know full well that these detentions won't be extended, but they have power and use it against those who accuse them of corruption and cooperation with criminals.

Rotem is a tough man. The proof is that he's still alive. Otherwise he surely would have committed suicide. He lost everything since he set out on his campaign for justice, including home, family and property. He lives in the street. And it's a horrible lesson for anyone considering exposing an act of corruption.

Hans Kohlhase was born around the year 1500 near Berlin. On his way to a fair, an anonymous noble stole his horses. Since he didn't receive justice, he set out to destroy everyone who had abused him in the state of Saxony. The countryside drowned in blood until he was caught and executed by being broken on the wheel.

Heinrich von Kleist's novella "Michael Kohlhaas" transformed Kohlhase into a historical fable. Will the attorney general, the state comptroller, the justice minister, the public security minister or the finance minister set up a parliamentary or government investigative committee to provide justice before the breaking wheel finishes its work on Rafi Rotem?