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A-G will not seek criminal investigation into Eshel
By JOANNA PARASZCZUK
29/01/2012
Weinstein will not ask police to continue investigations into allegations that PMO chief of staff harassed female staffer.
 
Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein announced Sunday evening he will not ask the police to investigate allegations that the Prime Minister’s Office’s chief of staff Natan Eshel harassed a female employee.

The announcement came after the Civil Service Commission presented a progress report to Weinstein earlier on Sunday regarding its preliminary inquiry into the allegations.

The attorney-general has said he will continue to monitor developments in the investigation closely, including during a business trip to Washington next week.

Also on Sunday evening, Eshel’s lawyer, Yaakov Weinrot, announced his client was taking a 10-day leave of absence, in the hope the matter would run its course during that period.

Eshel is suspected of harassing and intruding on the privacy of the female staffer, known only by the initial of her first name, ‘R.’ According to reports, the allegations were brought to the attention of the attorney-general by the cabinet secretary, Tzvi Hauser, the communications director, Yoaz Hendel, and military attaché Maj.- Gen. Yohanan Locker.

A Justice Ministry spokesman said that following Sunday’s meeting, Weinstein made the decision not to transfer the investigation to the police, saying there was “no justification to deviate from the accepted measures in this matter.”

Instead, the attorney-general announced that in the light of the allegations against Eshel and the testimonies and evidence gathered by the Civil Service Commission over recent days, the commission’s Investigations Branch will now carry out a full investigation into the matter, including questioning those connected to the matter.

The head of the Civil Service’s disciplinary branch is also involved in the investigation, which is being conducted in collaboration with the attorney- general and his office, the Justice Ministry noted.

A spokesman for the ministry said that when the allegations were first passed to Weinstein in December, those who gave the information asked that their identities be kept secret.

“Accordingly, those who gave the information did not turn at that stage to the investigative authorities, according to their explicit request, and it was decided instead that the reliability of their information be examined using other channels,” the Justice Ministry said.

The Justice Ministry also noted that so far R. has refused to make a formal complaint, and has said she will not testify in the investigation.

Although R.’s lawyer, Harel Arnon, wrote to Weinstein on Sunday, asking that she be permitted not to testify, the attorney- general informed her that as a government employee she is compelled to report to the Civil Service Commission’s investigators.

According to the Justice Ministry, in December, several days after the allegations first came to light, those who passed the information to Weinstein’s office were asked to check whether R. would make a formal complaint.

However, R. refused to do so or even to give any information, and so in early January those who passed on the allegations were asked to check whether she would instead agree to meet a senior official from the Attorney-General’s Office and bring the complaint to him.

However, at that early stage R. said she had no idea that anyone had approached the attorney-general and that she would refuse to testify in any form should she be asked to do so.

The Justice Ministry noted that earlier this month, the name of a potential witness to the alleged harassment was also put forward to Weinstein’s office, who passed all the details to the Civil Service Commission and ordered a preliminary inquiry into the reliability of the information.

However, the names of those who had brought the allegations to Weinstein’s office were not given to the Civil Service Commission, after they specifically asked to remain anonymous, the Justice Ministry said.

After taking a statement from that witness, the Civil Service Commission decided the testimony did not justify opening an investigation, and so asked those who had brought the allegations to Weinstein for details of other potential witnesses. As a result, another witness was found, and she gave a statement on January 23.

On the basis of those two witness statements, the commission decided to open an investigation against Eshel, the Justice Ministry said.

Since that time, the Civil Service Commission’s inquiry has uncovered significant new information, which resulted in the decision to open a full investigation, the spokesman added.

In R.’s lawyer’s letter, he asked that his client not be compelled to testify and said that R. wanted to remain anonymous.

“Our client’s right, the right of everybody, is to decide autonomously if she feels harmed by someone’s behavior and if she wants to share those feelings with others,” Arnon said.

Arnon wrote Weinstein that R. received a summons to testify “hours” after the media broke the story about the Civil Service Commission’s investigation of suspicion that a “senior [Prime Minister’s Office] official” had harassed a young female staffer and allegedly invaded her privacy.

“In this context, we wish to unequivocally clarify that our client’s position is that she does not wish to complain,” Arnon told Weinstein. “She does not wish to give a statement or testify and she does not wish to bring disciplinary or criminal legal proceedings.”

Noting that R.’s position was “enshrined in law,” Arnon emphasized the Prime Minister Office staffer had never made a complaint against Eshel.

“She considers the demand to make a statement or give details of what did or did not happen at her workplace as serious invasions of her privacy and as depriving her of her free will,” Arnon said. “Moreover, she also considers herself exempt from the need to explain or elaborate on this position.”

Arnon said forcing R. to testify would be “coercion,” “morally wrong” and a “fatal blow to her dignity and fundamental rights, as protected by the Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty.”

“Law enforcement agencies are not permitted to harm the privacy, freedom or dignity of an alleged victim, because of their desire to ‘protect’ their values,” Arnon wrote in his letter to Weinstein.

Also in the letter, Arnon raised concerns about the timing of the media reports about the alleged harassment, which he said were very closely followed by the Civil Service Commission’s summons to R., even though R. had not complained herself.

“This raises serious questions about how the authorities in general, and the Civil Service Commission and the Justice Ministry in particular, are safeguarding our client’s right to privacy and dignity, as protected by law,” Arnon said.
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