Police: Prisons Service Tip Did Not Concern Possible Hit on Criminal Lawyer

In an unusual move, the police commissioner's office issued a statement yesterday clarifying that the intelligence information conveyed a few weeks ago by the Israel Prisons Service, regarding attorney Yoram Haham, did not indicate plans to murder him. A car bomb killed the prominent criminal lawyer last Wednesday evening in Tel Aviv.

"We wish to emphasize, in order to remove any doubt, that the information received in the matter dealt with attorney-client relations, and there was nothing in the contents about an intention to harm anyone, and this was previously reported in the media, too," the statement said.

The police came under fire in recent days for its handling of the case, after it was revealed that a great deal of intelligence material in its possession pointed to Haham being a target for assassination by criminal elements.

The head of the police's investigations and intelligence division, Major-General Yohanan Danino, can expect to be put on the spot today when he attends an open meeting of the Knesset Internal Affairs and Environment Committee, which will deal with the Haham murder case as part of parliamentary oversight of police work.

Meanwhile at the Tel Aviv District Court yesterday, Asi Abutbul had his first hearing without his lawyer, Haham. Abutbul, who is charged with heading a crime organization, called Haham's death "very sad" and said "there are people guilty of this murder."

It was revealed yesterday that on the evening of the murder, attorneys Haham and Amnon Zichroni met with Central District Prosecutor Rachel Shiber to negotiate a plea bargain in Abutbul's case. The lawyers tried to get Shiber to agree to a moderate sentence, but the prosecution insisted on a high double-digit sentence.

Zichroni, who might replace Haham as Abutbul's lawyer, said after the hearing that Abutbul "is naturally grieved" at Haham's murder. "He is in shock. It harms his interest, and in addition, he and Haham had bonded," Zichroni said.

Asked whether he isn't afraid to join the case, Zichroni replied: "[I have] no fear. I am a veteran lawyer who has been threatened more than once or twice. If fear were my constant companion, I would stop representing clients."

Nonetheless, Zichroni said it is not certain he will take over Abutbul's case, in view of the amount of material and the schedule set by the court. He requested a few months to study the material, but Judge Bracha Ofir-Tom told him he could have only several weeks, and demanded that he inform the court by Wednesday whether he intends to represent Abutbul.

Zichroni said that members of Haham's law firm have been unable to brief him on the case because they are still in shock - "there's no one to talk to there." When the possibility arose in court yesterday that a female lawyer who had worked with Haham on the case join the hearing, Abutbul said: "She isn't functioning at all. Can't speak a word, poor thing. They told me she's in shock and hasn't recovered."

Zichroni said at the hearing that plea-bargain negotiations with the prosecution were unsuccessful in his view, and that he is waiting for a reply. Nurit Kornhauser, one of three lawyers representing the state, said that, "you could say that attorney Zichroni received a negative answer at the meeting itself."

On leaving Abutbul's hearing, Zichroni said: "We tried to persuade the prosecution to meet us half way and that we are not dealing with a crime organization. No violent acts are ascribed to him [...] Unfortunately we were not successful."

Abutbul's mother, Esther, said yesterday about Haham's murder: "I'm shocked, I'm stunned. What can you say? I haven't heard that they're saying it was my boy."