PMO Chief of Staff Natan Eshel is to be dismissed from his post at the end of the month after signing a plea bargain admitting 'misconduct' regarding a young female staffer, the Justice Ministry announced on Sunday.
The announcement came after the Civil Service Commission concluded its investigation into allegations that Eshel harassed a female staffer, known only as R., and invaded her privacy. During the investigation, which began last month, the Civil Service Commission questioned 28 witnesses and Eshel himself was also questioned under caution.
A Justice Ministry spokesman said that the investigation found evidence of misconduct on the part of Eshel and that the attorney-general and Civil Service Commission had agreed to approve the terms of a plea bargain agreed with Eshel's attorney, Dr. Jacob Weinroth.
Under the terms of the plea bargain, Eshel will resign from his post on March 1, and will agree not to return to the civil service.
Eshel admitted offenses of breaching civil service discipline and of conduct unbecoming to a civil service employee.
The PMO Chief of Staff agreed to accept a punishment consisting of a severe reprimand for his conduct.
"The plea bargain reflects Mr. Eshel's acceptance of his responsibility, and has resulted in an appropriate outcome - the termination of Mr. Eshel's employment in the civil service," a Justice Ministry spokesman said.
The Justice Ministry also said the plea bargain 'respected R.'s wishes not to be involved in legal proceedings," noting that R. still refused to cooperate with the investigation, although investigators and others had tried to persuade her to testify.
In a letter to Weinstein last month, R.'s attorney, Dr Harel Arnon, had asked that his client not be compelled to testify and said that R. wanted to remain anonymous.
"Our client's right, the right of every body, is to decide autonomously if she feels harmed by someone's behavior and if she wants to share those feelings with others," Harel told Weinstein.
According to the complaint filed to the Civil Service Disciplinary Tribunal with the agreement of both sides, Eshel is accused of forming a close relationship with R., which was both inappropriate and unacceptable because of his superior civil service rank.
Eshel also admitted to intruding on R.'s privacy by logging onto her computer without her permission and by giving personal and private information about R. to various people in the Prime Minister's Office without there being any professional reason for him to do so. Eshel also intruded on R.'s privacy using photographs of her taken at various social events.
A Justice Ministry spokesman said that the Civil Service Commission transferred the investigation's findings and an opinion from the head of the Civil Service's disciplinary branch to the attorney-general, Yehuda Weinstein.
"Mr. Eshel's removal from the civil service and his punishment are a message to all state employees, including senior officials, which is that actions such as those uncovered during this investigation are not to be ignored," the Justice Ministry said.
The Justice Ministry also said that those who first brought the suspicions against Eshel to the attorney-general's attention had acted correctly.
According to reports, the allegations against Eshel were brought to the attention of the attorney general by Cabinet Secretary Tzvi Hauser, communications director Yoaz Hendel and Maj.-Gen. Yohanan Locker.
"The attorney-general wishes to reemphasize that in a situation where a senior and powerful employee is disturbing a subordinate who is too afraid to complain, then civil service integrity requires that civil servants bring the information to the appropriate authorities," the Justice Ministry said.