Steady drip of leaks, but where are the recordings?

Objectivity of the investigation vs the public’s right to know: Security, academic and legal mavens debate the pros and cons of releasing the Netanyahu-Mozes tapes.

January 15, 2017 07:31
4 minute read.
Benjamin Netanyahu

Benjamin Netanyahu. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

Nearly every night this week Israelis have been treated to a roller-coaster ride of “breaking revelations” in the criminal investigation of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, reportedly over multiple recorded conversations between Netanyahu and Yediot Aharonot publisher Arnon “Noni” Mozes, regarding a quid pro quo deal of favorable coverage in exchange for the weakening of Yediot’s main competitor, Israel Hayom.

Police and Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit have reportedly been in possession of the recordings since police questioned and searched the phone and computer of Netanyahu’s former chief of staff Ari Harow in July. Yet instead of releasing the recordings following the announcement of a criminal investigation in early January, Mandelblit has kept a tight lid on information.

In the meantime daily “drips” feed a swirl of media speculation about the “bombshell” recordings.

The biggest leak came on Tuesday with a reported quote from a Mozes-Netanyahu conversation, “I will do all I can [to ensure] that you will be here as long as you want,” if Netanyahu supported a 2014 bill to force Israel Hayom to cease its free distribution.

The following day Channel 10 reported that Netanyahu claimed that he lied – that is, played along – during the conversation with Mozes, in order to expose extortion by the media mogul.

Netanyahu has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing in the case, using his oft-repeated mantra throughout the investigation, “There will be nothing, because there is nothing.”

Now many pundits are calling on Mandelblit to release the recordings, citing the public’s right to know.

Former Labor Party member and former head of the police investigations and intelligence unit Asst.-Ch.

(ret.) Moshe Mizrahi told The Jerusalem Post that while the media causes speculation, it plays an important role in pressuring government institutions to act in corruption investigations.

“Sometimes, when the system doesn’t want to hurry, the media has a very important duty,” remarked Mizrahi, known as an anticorruption stalwart who investigated now-Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman in 1997 and former internal security minister Avigdor Kahalani.

“It happened in [former prime minister Ehud] Olmert’s case – the system did not want to hurry anywhere, but the media pushed them.”

Mizrahi criticized Mandelblit for waiting months to open a criminal investigation after receiving the recording.

“The conversation itself is the main evidence – the decision is just to interrogate the two sides of the conversation,” said Mizrahi, who added that the recordings should be released when the investigation is concluded.

“Nothing changed from the moment that [Mandelblit] got the recordings in July to the moment they decided to open the criminal investigation.”

“There are two competing legal values regarding the recordings,” said Prof. Gad Barzilai, dean of the Faculty of Law and vice provost at the University of Haifa, “the efficiency and objectivity of the criminal investigation, which could lead to a criminal indictment, and the competing value of the public’s right to know.”

Barzilai said that police have a legal basis to prevent the publication of sensitive information that is still under investigation. However, this should be balanced with the public’s ability to hear the reported conversation.

“This is the first time, to my mind, a possible indictment is based on a recording between a prime minister and a media businessman. Once the investigation is not based on the possibility of secret details in the conversation, the recording should be released.”

But attorney Yair Regev, a retired senior officer of Lahav 433 – the National Crime Unit, disagrees, contending that media speculation is an inevitable consequence of high-level investigations.

“The recordings would be very severe information; it is impossible to release them in the middle of the investigation,” said Regev, who investigated former prime ministers Ehud Olmert and Ariel Sharon and former defense minister Yitzhak Mordechai. “The media and the public have the right to know – but not now.”

The Mozes-Netanyahu recordings reportedly underpin Case 2000 against Netanyahu, which police have kept under wraps. Police are also investigating Case 1000, which deals with allegations that Netanyahu accepted expensive cigars and gourmet meals in an illegal manner from Israeli-born movie mogul Arnon Milchan and Australian businessman James Packer. Case 1000 is more likely to lead to an indictment against Netanyahu, according to the Hebrew media.

While the police are providing a steady amount of leaks to the media, last Thursday Lahav 433 said it could not provide additional information on the investigation, “for fear of obstructing the investigation.”

Lahav 433 spokeswoman Vered Vinikov gave the police view on the matter, in a conversation with the Post on Thursday.

“The right of the public to know is important. But the interest that the investigation will arrive at the truth is greater than the public knowing the details at this stage,” she said, summing up the police position as: “My mother will sleep well if she does not know the details right now or in the next few weeks.”

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