Former Inspector-General Shlomo Aharonishky has become the latest person to defend the appointment of Asst.-Cmdr. Yoram Levy as commander of Southern Region's Central Investigative Unit (CIU).
The issue has become one of the central themes of the Zeiler Committee, before whom Aharonishky testified on Sunday, because Levy is suspected of maintaining an inappropriate relationship with suspected southern region crime bosses Sharon and Oded Perinian. They are believed to have ordered the 1999 assassination of rival Pinhas Buhbout, and it is the Southern Region police's handling of that murder investigation which the committee is examining.
Aharonishky said Levy's candidacy in 2003 was scrutinized by a committee led by current Jerusalem chief Cmdr. Ilan Franco, then head of the intelligence department at national headquarters, and deemed suitable for the job. The committee took into account a lie detector test Levy underwent but which proved inconclusive, and separate investigations carried out by the Police Investigative Department and by Avi Navon, the head of the security information unit.
"From the results that I got, there was a problem with the polygraph test, but he didn't come out a liar," said Aharonishky.
"The PID said there was no suspicion of criminal transgressions and we are not investigating him any more," the former police chief said, adding that he also got Navon's go-ahead to appoint Levy.
However, committee chairman Vardi Zeiler, a retired judge, didn't accept Aharonishky's testimony, saying that Navon only spoke to Levy in his investigation and took it no further.
"He (Levy) gave excellent answers. This is enough for an examination?" Zeiler asked Aharonishky, who eventually conceded that Navon's probe needed to be more thorough.
In addition, Zeiler emphasized that the lie detector test was inconclusive and pointed out that while the PID found no evidence to prosecute Levy, the accusations still hung over him. Fellow committee member Uzi Berger, a former head of the PID, asked whether Levy was appropriate for the job.
"If we had concluded that Yoram wasn't appropriate for the job, he wouldn't have been appointed," Aharonishky answered, adding that there weren't many others with Levy's background and experience.
As head of investigations in Southern District's CIU until December 2000, Levy took part in the Buhbout murder case, but was accused by his then boss, CIU head Cmdr. Amir Gur, of sabotaging the probe. Gur has been Levy's most vocal critic regarding his relationship with the Perinians, whom Levy operated as sources and whom he even met at his home.
However, in addition to Aharonishky, Levy has received support from a number of other current and former senior officers, including Danni Brinkner, the Southern Region commander from 1997 until 2000, and Yitzhak Aharonovitch, who was in the post from 2000 until 2002.
Buhbout was shot to death in 1999 as he lay in a Tel Hashomer hospital bed recuperating from a previous attempt on his life. An indictment brought against the Perininan brothers in October 2005 said they hired Jerusalem policeman Tzahi Ben-Or to carry out the hit.
Ben-Or was arrested in 2000 for armed robbery and was afterwards connected with Buhbout's murder. He was released to house arrest in 2002 and fled the country after police and the State Attorney's Office failed to reach a state's witness agreement with him. Ben-Or was found murdered in Cancun, Mexico in December 2004.