Top Police Posting on Hold as Hopefuls Face Investigations

Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch yesterday put the appointment of the next police commissioner on hold until the completion of a state comptroller report.

The comptroller is looking into the conduct of the police's Southern District commander, Maj. Gen. Yohanan Danino, who is a top candidate for the post.

On Tuesday morning, State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss told Aharonovitch he was still probing a complaint against Danino over alleged negligence that led to the murder of two police informants about four years ago. Lindenstrauss told the minister and Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein that his office needed more time to complete the inquiry.

Lindenstrauss said he was astonished at Aharonovitch's haste in appointing a new police commissioner, given that the inquiry into the affair had not been completed and the current commissioner, David Cohen, is only due to retire on May 1 next year.

Over the next few days, Weinstein plans to examine whether he could defend Danino's appointment if it is challenged in the High Court of Justice.

The suspected negligence came to light when a former senior officer in the investigations division, Commander Israel Abarbanel, wrote a letter to the State Comptroller's Office detailing the part he said both Danino and Cohen had played in the affair.

"Danino must not be appointed commissioner as long as the investigation into the murder of the two police informants is not completed," Abarbanel told Haaretz.

Yossi Salhov, the father of one of the murdered informants, also objects to Danino's appointment.

Salhov told Haaretz yesterday that "Danino is directly responsible for my son's murder and he has not paid for what happened. I've been trying to talk to him for four years without success. For three years they didn't return my calls. He must pay for his snafu."

The informant, Eyal Salhov of Bnei Brak, had managed to penetrate Avi Ruhan's crime organization as part of an undercover investigation. Police reports said Salhov frequently made contact with his police handlers and brought about the arrest of several members of the organization.

The younger Salhov, who met with police officers dozens of times, had said from the moment he started working for the police that he feared being exposed. Two days after his last meeting with a police officer, his bullet-riddled body was found in a citrus grove.

The investigation's findings indicated that Salhov's work as an informant put his life at risk. Because he was suspected of various offenses, he wore an electronic cuff and was forbidden to go far from his home - and all his acquaintances knew it. But despite this, his police handlers met him in hotels and other distant locations. Salhov's friends from an alleged crime organization soon noticed this and started suspecting him of being a police agent.

To dispel their suspicions, they sent him to throw a hand grenade into Ramle police's central investigations unit. The assignment was approved by then-police commissioner Moshe Karadi and Cohen, then Central District commander, who also notified the state prosecutor. The police gave Salhov a dud grenade, which he threw into the police station without hurting anyone.

The crime ring's suspicions of Salhov only deepened after this incident.

A day before Salhov's murder, a police officer called his cell phone. Instead of Salhov, one of the gang members replied, pretended to be Salhov and chatted to the officer. The officer did not use his code name and it became clear to the gang member that Salhov was a police informant. The following day, Salhov's body was found.

But despite their failures in handling Salhov, police did not open an investigation into the events leading to his murder.

The second murder took place three weeks later, at the beginning of November 2006. The victim of that killing, whose name cannot be released by court order, acted as a police informant inside the Jarushi crime syndicate.

Neither case has ever been solved. The information provided to the state comptroller charges that not only did the police act negligently by not preventing the murders, but in their aftermath, it failed to investigate its own actions.

Danino was allegedly aware of the failures in real time, and immediately after one incident in which the life of an informant was put in danger, he did order an extensive investigation.

But according to information reportedly received by the comptroller, the probe was not carried out, and Danino did not insist on it. Subsequently, the two informants were murdered.

This week, Abarbanel wrote a sharp letter to Lindenstrauss in which he said the comptroller's examination of his complaint over the informants' murders had been unnecessarily delayed. Despite two meetings that took place on the matter in the comptroller's office, he said, there has been no progress.

"This is a matter of an offense of failure to prevent a crime," he wrote. "Even worse, they knew, and attempts were made to whitewash the affair and explain that no investigation could be made."

The police team investigating the affair was appointed in 2007 and was headed by the former commander of the intelligence department at police headquarters, Brig. Gen. Manny Yitzhaki. In June, Haaretz revealed that the team had not questioned anyone: Its work was based solely on intelligence reports and documents they had collected.

At a meeting in the Justice Ministry in May, the head of the investigations and intelligence department, Maj. Gen. Yoav Segalovich, told State Prosecutor Moshe Lador that despite the police's failures, the probe had not concluded that the way the informants were handled led to them being discovered and murdered. Yitzhaki did recommend altering certain directives governing sources in the field.

Possibly with an eye toward a lawsuit, Lador instructed Segalovich's team to seek other possible explanations for why the informants were outed and murdered - for example, fallings-out among criminals.

Meanwhile, Yossi Salhov hired a lawyer who approached the State Prosecutor's Office with a demand for compensation. Lador's office agreed to settle out of court for over NIS 1.5 million.

A source familiar with the details of the case said it was a pity Lindenstrauss had waited until the last minute to say there was an obstacle to Danino's appointment.

Sources in the State Comptroller's Office said that at the time of the meeting with Aharonovitch, the Bar-Lev affair had not yet blown up and stopping the appointment process was not urgent.

The comptroller's office also said yesterday that it has given all the information it has on the murder of the informants to the Attorney General's Office.