Suspects being interrogated, not the police, are often the ones who leak information to the media, usually through their lawyers, Israel Police Commissioner Insp.-Gen. Roni Alsheich said on Tuesday.
Alsheich was responding to questions from MKs in a hearing-like discussion at the Knesset Interior Committee. During the tense discussion – from which the committee chairman removed several lawmakers because of interruptions – it was noted that coalition MKs tend to be more critical of the commissioner, while the opposition tends to stand by his side.
It is important to explain to the public how investigations are done, Alsheich said. He explained that suspects are forbidden from making direct contact with each other, so they leak information as a way to deliver messages back and forth. The commissioner also stressed that leaks are often far from the truth and meant to damage the credibility of the police in the eyes of the public.
“When an investigation is launched it is done covertly, sometimes even for a year and no one hears about it,” Alsheich said. “Only the police know about it.”
“However, the subjects of the questioning are talking to each other through the media. Their lawyers leak information so that others can hear what they have to say. Because of this, we are facing disruptions in the investigations, which are conducted in a very sophisticated way.”
Alsheich said lawyers often use the media for publicity and not in ways that benefit their clients. “But still, people think that these are ‘police leaks,’” he said.
He added that some of those who are being interrogated relay incorrect information in order to control the media coverage.
“Sometimes we see Q&As published. Then I go to the real transcripts of the questioning and check if there was a leak, and I find it to be completely wrong. Sometimes they want to portray the police as the body who leaked it,” he said.
“These moves are harming the police and damaging the public’s confidence in the police. And this why we should once and for all tell the public how these things are done,” he insisted.
Alsheich said he declared “a war on the police leaks” when he assumed office, and since then, restrictions have been imposed on police officers regarding the way they can approach the media.
“There is no such thing that a police officer talks to a journalist. Everything should be done through the spokesman’s office – including when I want to talk to the media,” he said. “I never met a journalist in a meeting without the presence of a spokeswoman or a spokesman,” he said and added that police have now introduced new “norm tests” in order to improve supervision in this matter.
THE SUBJECT of the Knesset discussion was an interview Alsheich gave to the Keshet TV show Uvda two weeks ago, in which he said that “power figures” sent private investigators to collect information on police officers involved in the prime minister’s investigations.
Alsheich insisted that he did not bring up the subject in the interview, but was asked by Ilana Dayan about remarks published by Channel 10 News a year earlier.
“I did not add even one word to the things I said a year ago,” he stated.
Alsheich clarified that he was not attributing such actions to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but that he made his remarks as a tactic to put an end to spying.
“I said there are subjects on the ground, sniffing around the investigators in these cases. I thought that it was illegitimate. I was under the impression at that point in time that it was very important to prevent these disruptions [of investigations]. That is why I came out publicly and said that it is not legitimate, and I backed the investigators,” he said.
“After I made this public statement, it ended,” he added.
Alsheich stressed that his tactic to stop the spying, besides ending disruptions of the investigation, was motivated by a desire to protect the investigators’ families.
After he was repeatedly asked by MKs if is there an investigation into the private investigators affair – if these charges are true – Alsheich stressed that police never provide a public update on whether an investigation has been launched.
Alsheich was also questioned on his summoning the prime minister to testify in Case 3000, the so-called “submarines affair,” in which Netanyahu is not a suspect.
The commissioner replied that in no investigation are people who are relevant to the case not summoned to testify.
He added that he never said Netanyahu will be questioned or that he is a suspect, but that it is natural that he will be called to deliver a testimony.
“There is no option that in a case like the ‘submarines affair’ we would not hear the version of all those involved,” Alsheich said. “When I say ‘involved,’ I mean those who were involved in decision-making when submarines were purchased.”
“This is why, when we were asked two to three months ago if the prime minister will be giving his testimony, I said, ‘Of course.’ Would you imagine a situation in which the prime minister won’t be questioned? It doesn’t mean that he would be questioned under caution or that he is a suspect,” Alsheich said. He added that the timing of summoning the prime minister would be based solely on its benefit to the case, without any other interest being involved.