Ministry Wants to Revoke Anonymity for Bankers

The Justice Ministry and the Israel Money Laundering and Terror Financing Prohibition Authority have asked the Knesset to amend the law giving bank officials the privilege of confidentiality for passing on information in money laundering and terror financing cases.

Deputy Attorney General for Criminal Affairs Yehoshua Lamberger informed the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee of the proposed change yesterday. The committee held a session yesterday to discuss the proposed amendment to the Prohibition on Money Laundering Law.

The existing law grants such privilege to bank officials who report money laundering offenses, but they are also required by law to report any such suspicions they have.

"There is no possibility of conducting a criminal trial without exposing the entire evidentiary material to the defense, including the source that caused them being put on trial," Lamberger said.

He said such privilege from exposure undermines the law and the ability to prosecute criminal acts.

"Even when it is a matter of the most sensitive secrets of the State of Israel, the source does not have confidentiality," he said.

Bank employees unions and the Histadrut labor federation asked the committee not to agree to removing the privilege, which could prevent bank workers from cooperating with authorities.

Committee chairman David Rotem (Yisrael Beiteinu ) also came out against the proposed change.

"Israel wants to put a bank clerk on the witness stand, and he will have to confront crime families who as a result of his report have been put on trial," Rotem said. "Removing the confidential privilege will lead to no one reporting [the crimes]. You want to endanger the bank teller? You are in reality sending them to the front in your wish to protect defendants' rights."

He added that such exposure would also endanger their families and children.

The Justice Ministry spokesman said the state is not asking to reveal the identities of its sources in every criminal case, rather it wants to keep them secret.

But in cases where such information may help the defendant, judges may order such information given to the defense. In such cases, the state will withdraw the indictments, said the spokesman. Another possibility is providing the defense with the required information supplied by the source without compromising the bank official's confidentiality, when it is required for the defense. In any case, the default will be to continue the privilege.