Police Suspect Former President Katsav Hired Private Investigators to Intimidate Trial Witnesses

Police interrogated Katsav, his two brothers, and his son for suspicion of harassing witnesses and violations of privacy.

A private investigator hired by former President Moshe Katsav is suspected, along with two others, of harassing witnesses and other people involved in Katsav's rape trial. A gag order on details of the investigation was lifted yesterday.

The three are suspected of harassing a prosecution witness close to A., the former Tourism Ministry employee whom Katsav was convicted of raping twice, as well as a friend of A.'s who was called as a defense witness by Katsav's attorneys. The three also allegedly contacted A.'s husband and a reception clerk in the Jerusalem hotel where one of the rapes occurred; neither of these two testified at the trial.

katsav - Lior Mizrahi - July 12 2011
Lior Mizrahi

The alleged harassment took place in the months since the Tel Aviv District Court sentenced Katsav to seven years in jail in March. Katsav has yet to enter prison.

On Sunday, police interrogated Katsav and two of his brothers, Lior and Yoram, as well as his son Noam. All are suspected of harassing witnesses and violations of privacy for having hired the private investigators and for having instructed him to obtain information on the four victims.

The Katsavs denied they did anything illegal. Both when they hired the investigator and throughout his work, they said, they made it clear that the probe must be conducted legally.

Last week, police arrested the investigator and a second man whom he allegedly hired specifically for this job. This man is not licensed to work as a private investigator and has been involved in numerous previous incidents of impersonation, forgery and fraud. Both were released to house arrest on Sunday after five days in jail.

The third suspect is a female private investigator employed by the one Katsav hired.

Next month, the Supreme Court will hear Katsav's appeal of his conviction and sentence. In addition to the rapes, which occurred while he was serving as tourism minister, he was also convicted of lesser sexual offenses against two other women who worked for him in various capacities.

Police suspect that a month after Katsav was sentenced, members of his family, and especially his brother Yoram, hired the investigator to gather information about four people connected with the case, in an effort to gather evidence that would bolster his appeal.

Since new evidence is normally not admissible during appeals unless it is extremely weighty, police assume the investigator was seeking something of that nature - for instance, a recantation of a witness' testimony, or information about statements A. had made that would undermine her story.

People familiar with the case said the material gathered by the investigator had not yielded any such bombshell, and in fact produced nothing of value.

Police said that A.'s husband and a close associate were both contacted by the man without a license, who used different false identities: To the former, he posed as the manager of a fictitious security firm at which he offered the husband a job, and to the latter, he posed as a director seeking to make a film about the case for the Sam Spiegel film school in Jerusalem.

The man met with them in person and also spoke with them several times by phone, until the close associate became suspicious and went to the police.

Last week, police seized three suspects' personal computers and various documents, including tapes and transcripts detailing the results of their efforts.

Police do not think the former president was directly involved in hiring the investigator, but do suspect him of taking part in discussions with the three hired snoops and of giving them instructions once they had been given the job.

"This act - harassing witnesses and complainants after being convicted - crossed all the red lines," a senior police source said yesterday. "The police are morally obliged to protect complainants and witnesses."

Two of Katsav's attorneys, Avigdor Feldman and Avi Lavie, said yesterday they were completely unaware that a private investigator had been hired. A third, Zion Amir, declined to comment, saying he considered this unwise while the police investigation was in progress.

Attorney Ronen Rosenbloom, representing the investigator the Katsavs hired, said his client strictly obeyed the law and received legal advice throughout his investigation, and was therefore unlikely to be indicted.

Attorney Alon Rapaport, representing the other man, said the latter's criminal past and lack of a license was irrelevant to this case, as he acted legally in this probe.

The suspect, 49, served as an officer in an army intelligence unit, after which he joined an elite criminal investigation unit in the police. He was expelled from the police in 1991 when he was caught selling five VCRs illegally.

He has since been involved in numerous shady incidents and has even served jail time for some of them.

Bilha Gillor, a Haifa District Court judge who presided over one of his trials, wrote over a decade ago that "there is no way of knowing what could bring a man who served in an elite Israel Defense Forces unit and then in an elite police unit to take advantage of his talents in the criminal world."

She was referring to a case in which the suspect was convicted of fraudulently presenting himself as a private investigator, or as someone close to private investigators, and then attempting to extort politicians and businessmen using information he had allegedly collected from their rivals.

He was arrested after the mayor of Kiryat Yam, Shmuel Siso, reported him to the police for blackmail.

He was convicted in 1999 of using forged documents, including court statements, medical assessments and bank records, to con NIS 120,000 from his victims, and was sentenced to 40 months in jail in a plea bargain.

He has since been involved in other illicit activities, and in March last year was arrested for using a bugging device with the goal of blackmailing a Carmiel rabbi.

He allegedly came to the rabbinate in Carmiel and pretended to be a businessman wishing to open a restaurant. He then offered the rabbi cash in exchange for assistance, hoping he could subsequently extort him.