The Warden and the Prisoner

Mazuz is no longer such a good boy. His innocence was lost long ago in the corridors of the courts building on Saladin Street.

Last spring, while Attorney General Menachem Mazuz was deciding what to do with the cases concerning Prime Minister Ehud Olmert that he had received from the state comptroller, Olmert invited him for a meeting. At that point, one of the best-kept secrets in the country was revealed to Mazuz.

Aside from the question of why it was necessary to reveal the secret to Mazuz, it would be interesting to know why Mazuz was even tempted to respond to Olmert's invitation. Olmert was, as usual, involved with his own problems and not just with matters of state. If all that was needed was the legal analysis of someone reliable who was in on the secret, assigning the task to a member of the military prosecution or a legal adviser in the Defense Ministry would have sufficed.

One suspects Olmert needed Mazuz so he could put a hand on his shoulder, bring him into the inner circle of the few involved in making fateful decisions and create a feeling of camaraderie that would make it hard for Mazuz to rule against the prime minister in the criminal cases. The part of Mazuz that served as an adviser on state security could influence the part of Mazuz that served as attorney general in considering what to do about the prime minister.

When this possibility was put to Mazuz recently, he said he would have been insulted had he considered Olmert was thinking along those lines. Even if there had been such a hope, it was shattered, because a mere few weeks after the Syrian operation, Mazuz ordered police to investigate political appointments (in the Small Business Authority and elsewhere), the Investment Center case and the Cremieux Street affair. The starting gun went off, and the tortoise race began. The investigations are still underway. There is no sense of alarm, of the kind that drives Shin Bet security service investigations.

The multiplicity of Mazuz's jobs turns into a split personality when the attorney general knows the government would be destabilized if the prime minister were to be convicted of an offense involving moral turpitude. Mazuz's outrageous solution is a readiness to open cases against the prime minister that is offset by a tendency to ultimately close the cases; the bar is low for launching an investigation, but high for filing an indictment.

Mazuz was prepared to indict then minister Haim Ramon, who was charged with forcibly kissing a female soldier, and then president Moshe Katsav, who is accused of sexual offenses, even when he noticed evidentiary difficulties. But when it comes to Olmert, Mazuz returns to his previous devotion to the burden of proof.

At an "Olmert Day" about a month ago, investigators and prosecutors gave Mazuz an interim report on the progress in the various cases. The assessment from the observers' gallery is that, ultimately, Mazuz will attempt to refrain from indicting Olmert in most of the cases, but will be strict regarding the political appointments case, which he sees as "Tzachi Hanegbi plus." [Hanegbi is accused of favoring party cronies for civil service jobs.] Consistency will compel him to send Olmert to the place where the Hanegbi trial is currently underway, but if he waits until he gathers evidence showing 50 improperly made appointments, and not just five, it will be too late.

When Mazuz closed the Greek island case, he lashed out at what he described as the astounding decision by then-state prosecutor Edna Arbel, who agreed with the central district prosecution in 2003 that the evidence was insufficient to indict then prime minister Ariel Sharon, but reversed her position a few weeks later, without the facts having changed (according to Mazuz). As far as is known, he has not retracted this stance.

Unfortunately for Mazuz, he found himself in a similar position when he was forced to explain repeatedly the change in his approach to the Katsav case.

Mazuz is no longer such a good boy. His innocence was lost long ago in the corridors of the courts building on Saladin Street, but he is no politician, making him easy prey for people who think and act in political ways - in other words, who realize that however important the result, it's better to put effort into the process.

In the case of the secret, Olmert and Mazuz acted like a prisoner and warden in a thriller who face the same deadly foes. Even when the danger passes, the guy on the side of the law remembers the experience and shows mercy to his former partner. If the prime minister is the government and the prosecutor is the government's lawyer and the prime minister's staff officer when need be, the government must be prohibited from investigating itself. If it is difficult for Mazuz to indict Olmert, and Sharon before him - what is needed is someone who is not part of the Justice Ministry, like the special prosecutor appointed by the U.S. Congress to investigate presidents.

Mazuz - who, in closing the Greek island case, made it possible for Sharon to carry out the evacuation of the Gaza Strip - made sure afterward to distinguish, just like his predecessor Elyakim Rubinstein, between criminal charges and a public reprimand. It seems that Mazuz didn't see Sharon as a particularly righteous man. His opinion on Olmert has yet to be heard, but dawdling over a decision on the indictments will influence the peace process. The agreement with the Palestinians that Olmert will attempt to present will be in the shadow of the continued investigations against him. If there is as much evidence against Olmert as there was against Ramon and Katsav, then Mazuz will sin against the essence of his job if he flinches from issuing an indictment.