Two former heads of the Southern police district have expressed support for Asst.-Cmdr. Yoram Levy, a central figure in the Zeiler Committee's inquiry into how police handled the murder of Pinhas Buhbout in 1999.
Levy has been accused of having inappropriate ties with alleged southern area crime bosses Oded and Sharon Perinian. He used the brothers as informants but they are also the chief suspects in Buhbout's killing.
Both Danni Brinkner, the Southern District's commander from 1997 to 2000, and Yitzhak Aharonovitch, who held the post from 2000 to 2002, praised Levy in testimony to the Zeiler Committee on Sunday. Aharonovitch has just been elected to the Knesset as part of Israel Beiteinu.
"Yoram Levy is a police officer who understands that he needs to catch robbers," said Brinkner, adding that Levy was an able field man.
Aharonovitch said he valued Levy's "professionalism and his command abilities," and that he trusted Levy even if Southern District Prosecutor Yisca Liebowitz didn't.
"I didn't catch him [being untrustworthy] and I didn't look for it," Aharonovitch said.
However, he said that Amir Gur, the head of the Central Investigative Unit in the south, was suspicious about Levy's links with the Perinians. Levy was head of investigations in the Central Investigative Unit and took part in the investigation into Buhbout's death. Aharonovitch said he passed Gur's concerns on to the Field Security unit at national headquarters for investigation, but they never told him how they were following up on the issue, even when he inquired.
"They told me it was being examined," he said, adding that he stopped monitoring the issue after he appointed Levy to be commander of Ashkelon police station in December 2000.
Levy is suspected of helping the Perinian brothers escape arrest on several occasions and has been the subject of two investigations by the Police Investigative Department. However he has never been charged with any crime.
Brinkner's testimony was characterized by a strong case of forgetfulness, with his most frequent response being, "I don't remember," including when he was asked about links between police officers and known criminals.
"If [information on such links] was passed onto me, I would have passed it on to Field Security," he said.
He also said he didn't remember if there had been intelligence that Levy took bribes, saying he would have done something about it had he heard of it.
"I'm trusting my [past] management," he said.
Brinkner gave a similar response when asked whether he knew of rumors that casinos operated in the South with the knowledge of police.
"I don't remember and I don't think it's true," he said.
Aharonovitch testified that one of the first things he did when he became the head of Southern District police was to close the illegal casinos in the region.
Brinkner also didn't remember a case where Southern police, with Levy's knowledge, used Oded Perinian to help return NIS 9 million worth of stolen gas mask batteries to the IDF Home Front Command. According to testimony, Perinian received as much as NIS 600,000 from the Magen insurance company for facilitating the return of the batteries. However, Brinkner did say that he might have approved such a deal under certain conditions.
Police believe the Perinians ordered the murder of Buhbout, who was fatally shot in 1999 as he lay in his bed at Sheba Hospital in Tel Hashomer, where he was recuperating from an earlier attempt on his life. The Perinians were indicted in October 2005 for allegedly hiring Jerusalem policeman Tzahi Ben-Or to carry out the hit.
Ben-Or was arrested in 2000 for armed robbery and was subsequently linked with Buhbout's killing. 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.