Most Israelis wanted to put the upsetting episode of disgraced former president
Moshe Katsav behind them. The nation cringed in December 2010 when the Tel Aviv
District Court convicted Katsav of rape, sexual harassment, forcefully
committing an indecent act, harassing a witness and obstruction of
Some asked how the system had allowed such a man to reach the
office of president when the offenses had gone on for years, while others took
pride in the legal system’s having proven that no man was above the law. Still
others were simply glad the affair had finally ended.
Or so they
However, this week, police charged that in the months following
his conviction, Katsav and his relatives and associates had not rested.
Determined to fight on and prove the former president’s innocence, they hired
two private detectives (police say they were hired by either Katsav or his
brother, Lior), and tasked them with an ambitious goal: to go undercover,
approach individuals connected to trial witnesses, and find enough evidence to
undermine their testimonies.
Katsav allegedly hoped that any new evidence
uncovered would be accepted by the Supreme Court as part of his future appeal,
and be compelling enough to impact public opinion – an arena that has proven
utterly catastrophic for the ex-president from the moment the suspicions against
“He’s fighting for his life,” a law enforcement official
told The Jerusalem Post
According to an undercover
investigation by the National Fraud Unit, which had been going on since May, one
of the private investigators – working without the required Justice
Ministry-issued license – pretended to be a documentary filmmaker and approached
individuals connected with a trial witness, saying he wanted to make a film
about “people who have changed the world.” The PIs secretly recorded all of
their communications, hoping to pick up any details that would show that Katsav
did not rape the former Tourism Ministry employee known as “Aleph.”
the individuals who were approached became suspicious, police
“Their behavior left behind clues,” added the law enforcement
source. Before long, the PIs were themselves being recorded and secretly
monitored by undercover detectives from the National Fraud Unit. Then, on July
6, the two were arrested.
Katsav was once again questioned by police, as
were his brother and his son, Yoram. The suspicions are that the PIs
harassed witnesses and violated their privacy.
SO DID Katsav’s attempt to
redeem his name violate the law? Officially police maintain that it did, but
privately, even some law enforcement officials concede that the legal line is
not that clear-cut.
According to Clause 249 of the criminal law book,
anyone found “harassing a person regarding testimony he gave, or is about to
give, in a legal investigation is guilty of an offense punishable by [up to]
three years in prison.”
The law appears to be clear: Even if someone has
already testified, they may not be “harassed.” But what constitutes harassment?
And what happens if the individuals approached are associates of witnesses,
rather than the witnesses themselves? “Harassing a witness would be to offer
them money not to testify. That disrupts an investigation. But here, Katsav is
heading to a Supreme Court appeal and would like to present new evidence,” said
Moshe Ben- David, CEO of the Karmiel-based Ben-David Hakirot PI offices, and a
member of the Israel Bureau of Private Investigators.
Had the PI in
question been working with a license, there would have been nothing illegal
about his pretending to be a film director when he approached individuals to
gather information, Ben-David said.
He added that the law was clear about
whom private investigators were allowed to impersonate. PIs cannot claim they
are licensed professionals, such as lawyers, police officers or accountants, he
said, noting, “You don’t need a license to make films, so a licensed PI can
claim he is a director.”
Ben-David declared working without a license –
as one of the PIs is suspected of having done – to be an indefensible
“It makes the rest of us look bad.,” he stated. “In Israel, there
are 400 legal PIs and 6,200 unlicensed PIs.”
Irrespective of the license
issue, he continued, the police and private investigators suffer from a complete
lack of trust in one another because, he argued, police feel threatened by the
capabilities of PIs, many of whom are former police officers
A year ago, Ben-David was hired by a client to investigate a
young woman’s allegations of rape at the hands of her former partner. He said
he’d recorded the woman saying that the man she was accusing had two options,
“either marry her or nothing.” Ben-David was arrested by police and accused of
harassing a witness.
“They never used my evidence,” he
“Police are in a panic when private investigators enter the scene
and discover new evidence,” he went on. “But if the witnesses already testified,
this is not harassment.”
Ben-David, who is licensed to work abroad as a
PI, said the relationship between police and PIs in other countries, such as the
US, Holland and Australia, was far more cooperative than in Israel.
added that the laws regulating the work of PIs dated back to 1977 and were
unclear, and that requests sent to the Justice Ministry to formulate a new set
of laws had not been answered.
State prosecutors have been accompanying
this latest investigation from the start, indicating that they believe criminal
offenses were committed. Should they decide to charge the private investigators,
as well as Katsav and his relatives, the former president will once again find
himself in the dock, fighting yet another battle.