Inside Track / Still Rotting, This Apple

Menachem Savidor (Hodorovsky) was very rigorous. So it's not surprising that when the government wanted the trains to run on time - at least as a wish - they appointed him to manage the railroad.

Menachem Savidor (Hodorovsky) was very rigorous. So it's not surprising that when the government wanted the trains to run on time - at least as a wish - they appointed him to manage the railroad.

To his 10 years as director of Israel Railways, he brought his training in the British Army and his service in the Israel Defense Forces, in which he established the School for Organization and Management, and headed the regime and discipline section of the Manpower Branch (as it was then called).

Upon his discharge from the army, in 1953, he joined the General Zionists party (forerunner of the Liberal Party, which was part of the original Likud) and the management of the Ministry of Transportation, which was then in the hands of the General Zionists. A year later, he was appointed director of the railways authority. Its largest station, Tel Aviv Central, which was inaugurated in his first year as director, is named after him.

Savidor was a member of the Ninth Knesset, during the tenure of the government of Menachem Begin. He was elected speaker of the Tenth Knesset, when Begin was again prime minister, though, by the end of that term, Yitzhak Shamir was prime minister, after Begin became entangled in the Lebanon War and subsequently resigned.

As Knesset speaker and as a strict interpreter of the parliamentary rules and regulations, Savidor played a substantive role in hastening the end of the Likud's control of the government, with the advancement of the general elections to the summer of 1984: Their outcome led to the formation of a national unity rotation government. His party punished him and he was not reelected.

His daughter, attorney Anat Savidor-Goldenzweig, works in the Central District of the State Prosecutor's Office. Her colleagues describe her as an industrious lawyer who becomes outraged when she encounters wrongdoing. The expectation was that she would, accordingly, take a professional and unequivocal approach toward the hefty case that she was assigned nine months ago - a case known popularly as "the Greek island" and, within the law enforcement system, as "Rotten Apple" - apparently a play on words that evokes the name of one of the suspects.

The police train cars - cartons of evidence based on suspicions against Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Jerusalem Mayor (and Likud Knesset candidate) Ehud Olmert and businessman David Appel - are hitched to the engine of the general prosecution, without which they cannot move along their tracks. And until attorney Savidor starts to move, the train will remain stalled in the station. Savidor has become rooted to the spot perhaps because of her compassion for elected officials and mercy upon those white-collar suspects who find themselves across the table from a police interrogator. It's difficult to believe that the thought has crossed her mind that if the case against the suspects is pursued exhaustively, the Savidor family will, for the second time in 20 years, share the responsibility for the fall of a Likud prime minister.

Lethargic progress

The Justice Ministry was this week asked to respond to the possibility that a personal or emotional difficulty being experienced by Savidor was the cause of the lethargic handling of the case, whose importance cannot be overestimated - a case in which "Suspect No. 3," the prime minister, is suspected of bribe taking (under sections 291 and 294 of the Penal Code of 1977), fraud and breach of trust (under section 284). The ministry spokesman totally ruled out this possibility, as well as the possibility of replacing Savidor with a different attorney or of reinforcing the personnel who are dealing with the case.

The handling of the case will "soon be completed," the spokesman promised. Soon, but only after the elections, among other reasons because to date, the police have not been given authorization to summon Sharon and his son, Gilad, for questioning. The assistance provided by Gilad Sharon - whose father served as foreign minister in the first half of 1999, the year of the offenses under investigation, and thereafter as chairman of the Likud - was worth $3 million to Appel, $640,000 of which was paid.

It's a mystery wrapped in an enigma: Who is responsible for the fact that not only leads, but also clear-cut products of a thorough investigation are lying in the State Prosecutor's Office like an unturned stone? In the meantime, others who are involved in the affair, who have not yet been warned and questioned, are free to work on their versions of the events ahead of their encounter with the interrogators.

Ha'aretz was told by the spokesman of national police headquarters that the investigation "was completed some time ago" (which is inaccurate, as Suspect No. 3 has yet to be questioned and the documentation of Appel's connections with Gilad Sharon surfaced only recently), and that it is up to the Justice Ministry to respond to the query as to why the prime minister has not been questioned.

The Justice Ministry spokesman added, in a puzzling reply, "At the time, based on the foundation of evidence that was presented, no cause was found, at that time, to question Ariel Sharon - this with the concurrence of those involved. Subsequently, it was decided to transfer the entire case to the State Prosecutor's Office for an examination of the material, and this is now being done. If within the framework of the case, it turns out that the further investigation is required, that will be done in the usual way as it is in other cases."

One can only wonder why such a sensitive case has been assigned to the Central District; and why an attorney who usually handles crimes within her area of jurisdiction (such as the recent murder at Kibbutz Na'an) is now dealing with the globe-spanning, politician-embracing businesses of David Appel, apart from the coincidental fact that some of the files (Givat Shmuel, Lod) are part of the Central District. The police investigators in the Central District have not probed the "Rotten Apple" file. That was done in the National Unit for Aggravated and International Crime (NUAIC). The enforcement of the law - police-prosecution-court - should be a high-quality, coordinated chain of nexuses of information, consisting of experts in the struggle against the sophisticated networks they have to cope with. It is not fair to expect an artillery battalion, however serious and devoted its members, to carry out offhandedly the complex missions of an elite reconnaissance unit.

It was concern about the infiltration of organized crime - from Russia and its sister republics, but not only from them - into the governmental establishment that led to the establishment of NUAIC in the 1990s. The national police chiefs generally come from the top command of the districts and are not eager to rile politicians and other powerful individuals. A rare combination of a national chief such as Assaf Hefetz, a head of the Investigations Branch such as Sando Mazor, and a commander of NUAIC such as Moshe Mizrahi is needed to heighten the efficiency of the investigators and to protect them from the storms that threaten to batter them.

In the past few years, contributions of this kind have been made by the previous minister of national security, Shlomo Ben-Ami, and by the current national police chief, Shlomo Aharonishky, who at first was against Mizrahi's appointment as head of the Investigations Branch (his current post), but avoids acting as a conduit for political pressures on the investigative units. Aharonishky has found himself constantly at odds with the present public security minister, Uzi Landau, an old adversary of the Investigations Branch who has also consistently opposed making public the recommendations of the police (in favor of indictment or not) when they pass on the cases they are investigating to the State Prosecutor's Office. Attorney General Elyakim Rubinstein is slacker than State Attorney Edna Arbel in terms of support for the Investigations Branch.

Despite the importance of the high-ranking officer who heads the Investigations Branch, the pace and quality of investigations is influenced more by the two officers subordinate to him, the heads of NUAIC and of the National Unit for Fraud Investigations (the Fraud Squad).

The head of the Fraud Squad, Miri Golan, has specialized in the investigation of senior public figures, including Benjamin Netanyahu, a former prime minister, and does not give the appearance of being afraid. Mizrahi's deputy at NUAIC, and his successor as head of the unit, retired last year. The officer who was moved up to replace him, Yohanan Danino - who excelled in the investigation of car thefts (the pride of the previous national police chief, Yehuda Wilk) - is one of the few in the top ranks of the police who share Uzi Landau's revulsion at the idea of the police making a recommendation of their own to the State Prosecutor's Office about whether a suspect should be indicted. During the months of Danino's command of NUAIC, the unit has sunk into a winter hibernation, as though it were curled up under a blanket, listening to the thunder and watching the lightning of the storm generated by Rubinstein's war against Mizrahi.

Resource shortage

The removal of the intelligence-gathering apparatus of national police headquarters from the Investigations Branch and the establishment of the (faltering) Intelligence Branch have had an adverse effect on the work of the police, despite the efforts of the intelligence officers of the investigative units, who are responsible for the initial collection of the details that gradually pile up and eventuate in an undercover investigation. If that investigation proves fruitful, it becomes open and results in an indictment. The constant shortage of resources and the desire to protect intelligence sources lead to the under-utilization of information. An investigation that is being conducted in a particular unit, or by a small team within a unit, is liable to suffer from internal compartmentalization, whether deliberate or accidental. A current case in point: Some of the testimonies in the "Rotten Apple" case refer to Appel's financing of registration drives in the Likud - in support of Sharon against Olmert and also the reverse.

According to the evidence, a certain Shmil Azoulai was a fieldworker for Appel, and when he tried to explain why he was having a hard time supplying signed forms of new party members, he said self-righteously that his competitors, the other activists who were signing up people, among them someone named "Shlomi," were walking around with mountains of money, as though it were paperwork. Initially, the identity of this Shlomi fellow, who was in direct contact with Appel, was unknown. The investigators of NUAIC were told that he was usually to be found in Ramat Gan. Did NUAIC bother in recent weeks to pass this information on to their colleagues in the Fraud Squad, who are investigating former convict Shlomi Oz's ties with Omri Sharon, the prime minister's other son? Not necessarily.

Another name that appears in problematic contexts, and for the first time, is Norman Shkolnik, an Israeli who moved to Australia but whose family lives in Herzliya, which is also where he and his wife have a bank account. In 1982, when Sharon was defense minister, Argentina wanted to buy used American-made Skyhawk aircraft from the Israel Defense Ministry, and thus bypass the embargo that was imposed on Argentina during the Falklands War. Shkolnik was the middleman, but the project was exposed and torpedoed.

Shkolnik has no political party preference, as long as the parties can help out. He was involved in the efforts of Shimon Sheves, the former director-general of the Prime Minister's Office, to promote a meeting of the prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin, with the president of Taiwan, for the benefit of certain businessmen. Sheves, who was represented by attorney Dov Weisglass (currently the bureau chief of Prime Minister Sharon), was convicted of bribe taking and fraud; the Supreme Court will decide whether to accept his appeal.

Shkolnik's business affairs are not confined solely to Greece. He runs businesses in another country, too, of which Sharon as foreign minister was even more fond during the Kosovo war: Serbia. David Sasson, the former Israeli ambassador to Greece, whose return to Athens was desired by Shkolnik and Appel, moved to serve in Serbia. Sasson was friendly with Shkolnik; David Levy, who became foreign minister after Sharon, worked together with the director-general of the Foreign Ministry at the time, Eytan Bentsur, to get him re-posted to Greece. Among the suspicions that were examined: the involvement of the "prince," an acquaintance of Appel's from a city in the Sharon area who owns escort establishments, in this aspect of the affair.

Shkolnik and Appel conceived the project: Influential figures from Greece would be brought to Israel, supposedly at the invitation of the Labor Party (though not with its financing) and meetings would be arranged with senior figures here - MK Ahmed Tibi, Abu Mazan (considered Arafat's deputy), Ehud Barak and, above all, Olmert and Sharon. The "Rotten Apple" case gives rise to suspicions of give and take: votes in the Likud and money to Gilad Sharon in return for rezoning of land in Greece, despite restrictions there due to archaeology laws and church ownership. The reason: so that Appel would be able to build and sell, to workers' committees and others, half-a-million vacation units on the island. The arrangement of meetings with Olmert and Sharon is an episode (labeled "Red Carpet") within the larger affair.

Sophisticated adversaries

The suspicion is that the affair of the Greek island exemplifies the method used by Appel, who doesn't bet on one card. He operated vis-a-vis both big parties (Labor was an excuse, as the sister party of PASOK, the Greek socialist party) and two rival leaders in the Likud.

There are some politicians whom Appel and his cohorts do not badmouth. One such is former Shas chairman Aryeh Deri, whose brother, attorney Shlomo Deri, was asked to instruct their confidant, Eli Suissa, the national infrastructure minister, on how he could be of help with Greece. Appel emerges as a generous, affable person who takes a reverent approach to churches, especially those that own land. One of his employees is a former deputy chief of the Prisons Service, a former prison warden, whose connections are useful for arranging visits by Shkolnik and others to a prisoner - a monk who was convicted of murdering a nun.

In order to deal with such sophisticated adversaries, the American or British system has to be invoked: establishment of departmental task forces headed by a militant attorney. That's how New York went after organized crime, under a federal attorney and with the participation of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the New York Police Department.

A BBC documentary on the huge Guinness fraud case in Britain was a real eye-opener for attorney Jacques Chen, who worked in the State Prosecutor's Office. Chen was an assistant to attorney Yehoshua Reznick, an assistant state attorney; today they are partners in a private firm of their own. They both left the civil service in November, 2000. The Reznick-Chen team, the leading attorneys in the Deri cases, was an example of the correct handling of aggravated crime. Dorit Beinisch, then the state attorney (now a justice of the Supreme Court) assigned them (along with others) the Deri cases, and they also dealt with cases related to Sharon (the suspicion that he received a bribe in the Russian gas episode) and to MK Avigdor Lieberman (in which prima facie evidence was found against him in one clause of a case, but in which the state prosecution decided not to bother).

Reznick and Chen closely monitored the investigators of the Fraud Squad and NUAIC, and also spurred them on when necessary, without waiting for them to submit a complete case. Another version of the Reznick-Chen model is a department devoted to aggravated crime. Such is the security department in the State Prosecutor's Office, headed by attorney Devorah Chen, which deals with security offenses such as those involving Nahum Manbar, Yehuda Gil and Yitzhak Yaakov. Another example is the economic department, under attorney Shimon Dolan. Before that department was established, the economic offenders used sophisticated techniques whereas the prosecution was mired in the Stone Age. However, the authorities' hesitations in the face of complicated legislation and the fear that too much power would be concentrated in the hands of the department led to the dilution of Dolan's original recommendation, for the creation of an enforcement agency possessing broad powers.

It's a safe bet that if the "Rotten Apple" file had been assigned to Dolan, or to the Reznick-Chen duo, the train would not now be stuck in the station. The case came into being as an offshoot of the Deri affair and was therefore brought, almost randomly, to the knowledge of Reznick and Chen on the eve of their departure, when the NUAIC investigators were up their necks in the Nimrodi affair.

In mid-December, 2000, a few weeks after Reznick and Chen left, and two months before Sharon's election as prime minister, the case was assigned, on behalf of State Attorney Arbel, to Anat Savidor, a veteran senior attorney. She and her superiors have not yet supplied an appropriate explanation for their tardiness: not in the two years since the interim summation against Suspects Nos. 1, 2 and 3, and not in the nine months that have gone by since the file landed on her desk.

For some reason, Rubinstein saw fit to empower a special team to ferret out the nefarious leaker of another Sharon-related inquiry. (On Wednesday, the High Court slapped his wrist for involving the Shin Bet security service in it.) He overlooked the possibility of commissioning a special task force to expedite the various Sharon-related investigations.