State stops probe of Lieberman case leaks

Touting ‘journalistic immunity,’ state is unable to investigate Internet newspaper.

By DAN IZENBERG
September 2, 2010 08:36
3 minute read.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.

lieberman threatening 311. (photo credit: AP)

 
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The state informed the High Court of Justice on Wednesday it had tried to investigate leaks emanating from a police investigation of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman but was unable to do so and therefore had no choice but to close the case.

Lieberman petitioned the High Court on March 18, 2008, after investigative reporter Yoav Yitzhak wrote two articles in his Internet newspaper, News First Class, about the investigation.

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Lieberman said “the reports quoted entire sections of a report prepared by the police investigation team headed by Shaul Goelman for outgoing chief of police Moshe Karadi.”

Lieberman wrote that then-attorney-general Menahem Mazuz had refused his request to investigate who was responsible for the leak. Mazuz explained to Lieberman that such an investigation would be highly sensitive because it would require questioning the journalist who received the leak and all the policemen and others who were privy to the report, and because the potential harm of such an investigation outweighed the chances that the culprit would be discovered.

The first hearing on the petition was held on November 17, 2008, and the court ordered the Justice Ministry’s Police Investigations Department to conduct an “intensive” investigation into the leaks.

“It is inconceivable that police officers who leak information should be able to sleep peacefully at night,” declared presiding Justice Edmond Levy. “They must pay for their actions.”



Now the state has informed the court that it tried to find the person responsible for leaking the report but was unable to do so and was now asking it to agree to close the case and reject Lieberman’s petition.

The next court hearing is due to be held on Monday.

On Wednesday, the state’s representative, Dana Briskman, wrote in a brief to the court that the documents referred to in Yitzhak’s articles were internal police summaries written in 2004 and published by Yitzhak four years later.

Miri Golan, then head of the National Unit to Investigate Fraud, told police investigators that many officers in her unit, including the investigation team and intelligence officers had seen the report. She said it was possible that state prosecution employees had also seen it. “Anyone who wanted to would not have had any trouble seeing the document,” she said.

Despite the large number of people who may have had access to the document, the police asked the phone companies to see the lists of calls made and received by 13 of the potential suspects. They then cross-checked the potential suspects’ phone numbers against Yitzhak’s phone number.

No matches were found but many of the phone numbers that appeared in the list did not include the name of the owner of the line. The police went to magistrate’s court for an order allowing the investigators to receive the names of the owners of the lines.

But the court refused.

The state refused to go any further to find out directly who had leaked the document. It also decided not to check the list of phone calls received by Yitzhak, which might have also revealed the source of the leaks.

“There is no disputing the importance of journalistic immunity to maintain a democratic system and protect freedom of expression,” explained Briskman. “There is also a difference between the immunity of a journalist and that of other professions noted in the law...

Only in the case of a journalist is it true that a list of phone calls made and received might reveal the source of the information, which is the very reason for immunity in the first place.”

As for investigating all those who might have leaked the document, Briskman wrote, “An investigation conducted to discover the source of a leak or disclosure of information necessitates suspecting many people, usually without any basis... This sort of investigation frequently requires following the phone conversations of those involved. This is an act that violates the right to privacy and may also involve violations of the client-lawyer relationship or journalistic immunity.”

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