(photo credit: ISRAEL POLICE)
The prosecution on Sunday ran into trouble with three witnesses, including its main witness who was due to testify on Monday, in its sexual assault case against former Jerusalem Police head Asst.-Ch. Nisso Shaham.
All of the women’s identities are under gag order and the proceedings are taking place behind closed doors.
The main witness has informed the state that she wants to withdraw from the complaint that she submitted against Shaham.
According to the state, she has not said that her earlier testimony to police against Shaham was wrong, just that she wants to drop out of the case and avoid testifying.
A Justice Ministry spokesman said that, despite her change of heart, it still may call her as a witness, but decided to postpone Monday’s testimony because she has a health issue.
Two other less prominent witnesses are also trying to withdraw from the case.
The state said that both women stand by their testimony to police against Shaham, but one of them has now said she does not think what he did was all that serious, saying “nothing much happened,” while the other woman had given that as her opinion to police from the start.
The state has not decided if it will summon the women to testify despite their misgivings.
Though the state has put the best face possible on the developments and has made it clear that it will push onward with the case, the developments were a serious setback and embarrassment.
The trial opened in December 2013, in the Ramle Magistrate’s Court, with the allegations against Shaham also including sexual harassment, fraud and breach of trust.
After that proceeding, Shaham said, “I rejected a plea bargain offer” from the prosecution, “because here in court is the place to clarify the truth.”
He added that even those “witnesses who were pushed by the Justice Ministry’s Police Investigation Department to lie [about the allegations against him] will need to tell truth, there will be no choice.”
In the indictment filed against Shaham on October 14, 2013, he was charged as follows: Eight junior female police officers accused him of exploiting his senior position to carry out sexual relations with them – including acts that were against their will – and of sexually harassing a number of them.
At the same time, Shaham made decisions relating to the promotion or career status of the eight women, which the indictment called a direct conflict of interest.
According to the indictment, some of these decisions included granting them leaves of absence to study and transfers to better or more desirable jobs in the organization.
Some of the women who came to Shaham were in financial distress at the time, alleged the indictment.
The sexual incidents took place in Shaham’s car and at police buildings, as well as at his house and his mother’s house, in addition to other locations, the indictment stated.
Both the prosecution and the defense requested that the trial be held behind closed doors (meaning with no press coverage) to protect the identities of the women.
A rhetorical battle broke out at the trial’s opening between the prosecution and the defense when the prosecution referred to the women as the “complainants” and the defense said that the women should not be called complainants as they did not approach the police themselves – rather, the police sought them out.
In July 2012, following an undercover operation by the Justice Ministry, Shaham was interrogated, and in November 2012, he was informed that the ministry was weighing an indictment against him.
When the allegations were made public in August 2012, Shaham resigned from his post as head of Jerusalem Police and went on forced administrative leave, subsequently being fired in late October. He was replaced by then-Southern District head Asst.-Ch. Yossi Parienti, who recently resigned as part of a scandal.Ben Hartman contributed to this story.