Legal Affairs: Bench pressing

Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz is living up to his promise to speed up the legal process.

By DAN IZENBERG
October 20, 2006 03:21
4 minute read.
Legal Affairs: Bench pressing

mazuz 248.88. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])

 
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When Menahem Mazuz assumed the post of Attorney-General on February 1, 2004, he made it clear that he intended to speed up the process of investigating and deciding whether to prosecute suspects. This desire not to prolong the process of investigation and indictment for years at a time applied in particular to public figures who were, in the nature of things, under intense public scrutiny, and whose careers were often adversely affected by the investigations - even though they continued to be presumed innocent. Mazuz's predecessor, Elyakim Rubinstein, had been heavily criticized for taking too long investigating cases, such as the allegations against former prime minister Ariel Sharon in the Greek island affair, and the case of the illegal election campaign contributions. During the two-and-a-half years he has been in office, Mazuz has had to handle three major investigations of public figures: former internal security minister Tzahi Hanegbi, former justice minister Haim Ramon and President Moshe Katsav. In all three cases, he has lived up to his word. The longest lasting of the criminal investigations has been the case of Hanegbi. On Sept. 1, 2004, Mazuz ordered the police to launch an investigation into allegations that Hanegbi had broken the law by appointing dozens of Likud Party functionaries or their relatives to jobs in the Environment Ministry, which he headed. The team, under Dep.-Cmdr. Baruch Segilovich, submitted its report, which included a recommendation to indict Hanegbi, on February 12, 2005. Less than two months later, Mazuz announced that he had decided to indict Hanegbi pending the outcome of a hearing. However, the hearing did not take place until July 2, because Hanegbi's lawyer, Ya'acov Weinroth, asked for time to study the evidence. The final decision to indict him came on August 15, 2006. The investigation of Hanegbi in the case of the political appointments took far less time than an earlier investigation of his actions in the affair of the Derech Tzleha non-profit organization which he established several years before. But it is in the cases of Ramon and Katsav that Mazuz has acted with exceptional speed. THE RAMON affair began on July 12, when he allegedly forced a kiss upon a 21-year-old female soldier who was working in the Prime Minister's Office in Tel Aviv. Several days later, the woman, identified in the indictment against Ramon as "Aleph Aleph [A.A.]," submitted a complaint to the police. A court gag on the investigation was lifted on July 25. Twenty days later, on August 15, the police submitted their findings to Mazuz, and said there was enough evidence to warrant indicting him. On August 17, Mazuz announced that he was considering indicting Ramon pending the outcome of a hearing. Ramon waived the hearing, did not try to invoke his parliamentary immunity and was indicted on August 20. His trial began in the Tel Aviv Magistrate's Court on September 11. One might say that if any investigation should have been conducted quickly, this was the one. After all, the file involves only one case and largely boils down to conflicting accounts of the same deed. This cannot be said for the Katsav investigation, which includes complaints by no less than 10 women who worked for him over the years, as well as Katsav's counter-accusations of extortion against "Aleph [A.]," the first plaintiff in the case. Considering these complexities, the investigation has been proceeding at breakneck speed. THE KATSAV story broke on July 8, when the media reported that he had asked for Mazuz's advice regarding a woman he believed wanted to blackmail him. After Katsav denied the report and refused to lodge an official complaint, Mazuz took the initiative and, on July 11, ordered the police to investigate the allegations raised by the president. Within a few days, the police were investigating Aleph's allegations against Katsav and over the coming days and weeks, many other women came forward with complaints of sexual misconduct against Katsav. On September 19, Mazuz convened a meeting of the police investigating team and senior Justice Ministry officials to hear an update on the progress of the investigation. In order to save time, Mazuz launched two parallel procedures. On the one hand, he asked the police to continue their investigation of certain matters. On the other, he handed the police's evidence that was compiled up until then to the Jerusalem District Attorney's Office, so that it could begin preparing its report and recommendations. While the police collected more evidence, the prosecution was already working on its report ,which was to be presented to Mazuz for a final decision. Furthermore, Mazuz himself kept abreast of the police findings throughout the investigation, so that he would be prepared to take the district attorney's recommendation and come to a quick decision. On Sunday, October 15, the police formally announced that they had completed their investigation and said there was enough evidence to indict Katsav on a wide array of crimes, beginning with rape. According to Justice Ministry sources, Jerusalem District Attorney Eli Abarbanel will hand over his report and recommendations to Mazuz in about three weeks. Then it will be up to the Attorney-General to make the final decision as to whether to indict Katsav. Based on his track record, it won't take him long to do so.

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