After low expectations, Mazuz term considered a big success

Outgoing A-G fought organized crime and led indictments against Olmert, Katsav and Hirchson.

By DAN IZENBERG
January 29, 2010 04:05
Incoming AG Weinstein with Neeman and Mazuz.

Weinstein Mazuz Neeman. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)

 
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Menahem Mazuz was barely known to the public when he was appointed by the government, on the advice of late justice minister Tommy Lapid, as the new attorney-general in February 2004.

Furthermore, many people had low expectations of the shy civil servant who had spent all his working years in the Justice Ministry. If anything, it looked, at first, as though Mazuz would not continue the fight against government corruption that had been waged by outgoing state attorney Edna Arbel.

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It is hard to believe that six years later, as Mazuz’s time in office comes to an end, his term is considered an enormous success, particularly regarding his indictments of senior members of government, including prime minister Ehud Olmert, president Moshe Katsav and finance minister Avraham Hirchson, and his successes in the fight against organized crime.

His term got off to an inauspicious start when he closed criminal investigation files against Olmert and Reuven Rivlin, the current Knesset speaker. Then, in June 2004, in a decision that has remained controversial ever since, Mazuz decided to close the case against then-prime minister Ariel Sharon regarding allegations that he had accepted bribes, via his son, Gilad, from Likud Party wheeler-dealer David Appel.

The decision convinced almost anyone who still needed convincing that the attorney-general was weak and that the government had chosen him for precisely that reason.

Worse still, in defending his decision, which contradicted the conclusions of Arbel and her team of prosecutors, Mazuz more or less accused them of having first decided to indict Sharon and then interpreting the evidence to justify the decision. His attack almost led to a full-scale rebellion by the Justice Ministry’s staff of hundreds of prosecutors, who were eventually persuaded by Mazuz that his attacks were not aimed at them.

However, while most of the public’s attention was focused on Sharon and the so-called “Greek Island Affair,” Mazuz was busy reorganizing the state prosecution and dealing with what he regarded as the roots of the problem of corruption in government.



Mazuz’s criticism of Arbel went beyond the Greek Island Affair. He felt that she had overstepped the hierarchical boundaries between herself and her boss, previous attorney-general Elyakim Rubinstein.

One of his first orders of business was to initiate a law allowing him to delegate some of his responsibilities to other officials in the ministry. This gave him the time to determine the strategy and goals of the state prosecution and to provide active leadership.

Mazuz also made sure he would not face rivalry from Arbel’s successor by seeing to it that he headed the search committee that recommended the new state attorney.

These measures, coupled with a personality that inspired trust, an unambiguous perception of the role of attorney-general and his clear and simple style of expression, arguably made him the most influential and authoritative attorney-general since Yitzhak Zamir.

Mazuz also began his own war against corruption in government from the beginning of his term. For example, he drafted a new directive forbidding elected officials from having any contact with political activists, including those in the Likud Central Committee who had picked the party’s nominees for public office.

He was also the first attorney-general to order a police investigation of a politician who had not only made large numbers of political appointments, but had also boasted about them – Tzahi Hanegbi.

Other steps, this time directed at organized crime, came soon after. Mazuz called for a coordinated battle involving all government law enforcement bodies. He established and headed a senior coordinating committee that included the state attorney, the chief of police, and the heads of the securities and tax authorities.

On a junior level, he established an inter-authority intelligence body whose members sit daily in the same room and share their information with one another.

Mazuz also had a bit of luck in that a new and extremely active state comptroller, Micha Lindenstrauss, had decided to devote his term in office to the war against corruption. The state comptroller initiated several of the investigations against Ehud Olmert that eventually led to criminal investigations and indictments against the former prime minister.

In other cases, however, it was Mazuz and the police who initiated the investigations of public figures, including Katsav, Hirchson and former minister of labor and social welfare, Shlomo Benizri.

The two key investigations that Mazuz is leaving behind for his successor are the allegations against Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and those against prime minister Ariel Sharon and his son, Gilad, regarding how they were able to repay the illegal campaign contributions they had received during Sharon’s successful Likud primary campaign in 1999.

All in all, however, Mazuz takes great pride in his achievements as the number one law enforcer. Recently, he told the Israel Bar’s monthly journal in a farewell interview that there were more investigations, indictments and convictions during his term of office than in that of any other attorney-general.

The public clearly seems to appreciate that fact. Nevertheless, Mazuz has his critics.

Dan Yakir, the legal adviser of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, told The Jerusalem Post Mazuz had “utterly failed in the area of civil rights.” He referred to a long list of issues, including Mazuz’s support for the amendment to the Citizenship Law barring Palestinians and Israeli Arabs from marrying, the army’s refusal to allow Palestinians to use Highway 443 in violation of a promise it had made to the High Court of Justice when it expropriated Palestinian land to widen the road and his defense of the state’s decision to build parts of the security barrier on Palestinian land.

Criminal law professor Yoram Shahar of the Interdisciplinary Center – Herzliya warned that although Mazuz’s program of coordinating the various law enforcement agencies was an effective tool in the short-run to fight organized crime, in the end the power accumulated by the combined agencies would be used against less appropriate targets.

“He has been an extremely successful attorney-general, but he failed to let the public know what the price tag for his success is, and it will only become apparent in the long term,” said Shahar.

Hebrew University criminal law professor Mordechai Kremnitzer said Mazuz’s record was mixed. It included “clear failures,” such as the Greek Island Affair, his attacks against Arbel, which caused “heavy damage” to the judicial system,” and his “unprofessional behavior” in the Katsav case, particularly in response to the High Court petitions against his decision to reach a plea bargain with Katsav, in which he described the women who had complained against the former president as unreliable witnesses.

It was hard enough as it was to persuade women to file complaints against sex offenders, said Kremnitzer. Mazuz’s remarks in the Katsav case only made it harder.

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