Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
A report issued Monday by the Justice Ministry’s oversight czar says the Tel Aviv Economic Crimes Unit took 40 months on average to decide whether to close or file indictments in certain cases with multiple suspects.
The report came out against the backdrop of a fierce battle, which exploded again last week between the state prosecutors, oversight czar Hila Gristol, Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked over the future and the powers of the oversight body.
Gristol previously issued a prior report slamming state prosecutors nationwide for taking too long to notify suspects that their cases would be closed.
But this one focused specifically on this special unit that deals with some of the most complex white collar crimes cases with multiple suspects, such as the Holyland case against former prime minister Ehud Olmert.
Covering the period of 2013- 2014, the first point of criticism was that the Economic Crimes Unit did not comply with Weinstein’s 2011 directive that cases of the main category they deal with should have decisions within 18 months.
The report states that the unit decided that Weinstein’s directive only applied to cases it received after he issued it in 2011, such that cases received before 2011 were decided on average within 40 months, with one case taking 81 months.
Gristol did compliment the unit on “notable efforts” to improve the lag time for decisions on newer cases, yet stated the unit still “departed from the maximum time” allotted for making decisions in 24 percent of cases.
On another note, the report slams the unit for making decisions in some cases only regarding certain suspects, while leaving other suspects’ fates hanging.
She says the unit decided Weinstein’s directive of when case decisions must be made by only applies to the decision on the first suspect, with no time limits for the other suspects.
As such, the report states that half of the cases with multiple suspects include suspects whose fates have been left open even as other suspects’ cases have been decided.
One example the report gives of this phenomena involves a file with nine suspects received on October 30, 2011 in which three suspects were indicted, three had their cases closed and three even to date have no decision.
Next, Gristol criticized the lack of record keeping regarding cases where the file was frozen for an extended period to collect new evidence or for some other special reason, including failures to post updates in the computer system where aspects of those cases progressed.
The report states record keeping was deficient in 49% of such frozen cases.
Gristol wrote that this meant “the management levels” of the prosecution “could not get an accurate picture of what is actually happening in these cases.”
Economic Crimes Unit head Liat Ben Ari, considered one of the prosecutors’ heroes in the Holyland Olmert conviction, responded to the report less harshly than state prosecutors have responded to prior reports, but still contested most of the report’s claims.
According to Ben Ari, most cases were decided in only 12 months, six months less than Weinstein ordered, once one takes into account the amount of time that cases were temporarily frozen.
Ben Ari called the data in Gristol’s report “not exact, which causes getting a general picture, which is different from the one which actually exists.”
In particular, Ben Ari said the report does not give sufficient emphasis on the enormous workload and the shortage of human resources faced by her unit.
In one interesting back and forth, an earlier version of Gristol’s report had claimed that Ben Ari’s unit had 70 lawyers, with Ben Ari saying her unit had only 50 lawyers and the final version of the Gristol report amending the number to 50 lawyers.
She also rejected the criticism of a failure in record keeping, claiming that during the period of the report’s review, her office’s record keeping system was changed making it impossible to immediately have all case records updated in the new system without lag time.
Further, Ben Ari said there was no interpretation limiting Weinstein’s directive to new cases, rather when Ben Ari took over the unit in 2012, she initiated a new set of procedures to encourage efficiency.