A-G may probe police pressure on Hefetz even as PM indictment goes forward

Reports indicate that police may have acted improperly in Case 4000.

Former Netanyahu aide Nir Hefetz (photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/MAARIV)
Former Netanyahu aide Nir Hefetz
Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit said on Tuesday that he may probe whether the police illegally pressured Nir Hefetz, a key state’s witness in Case 4000 and a former top aide to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The allegations emerging from Channel 12 and Israel Hayom reports in recent days are that police interrogators brought in outside unrelated third-parties to blackmail Hefetz into turning against Netanyahu and that they planted facts in his head to make their case which he had previously denied.
One Channel 12 report by Amit Segal said late Monday that Mandelblit’s office had blocked them from publishing the full details, but that the police questioned the third-party over issues related to Hefetz, but unrelated to Case 4000, the Bezeq-Walla Affair, and that this event led Hefetz to turn.
Until Hefetz turned in February 2018, he had held out in backing up Netanyahu’s behavior as legal and rejecting allegations that the prime minister acted illegally to help Bezeq in exchange for positive coverage on the Walla website, both of which are owned by tycoon and ally Shaul Elovitch.
In contrast, both Channel 12 (this time by Moshe Nussbaum) and Channel 13 reported late Tuesday night that law enforcement was owning up to bringing the third-party into the process of interrogating Hefetz, but was also calling the move legitimate.
They said that even the questions asked to the third party were legitimate, contradicting the earlier Channel 12 report by Segal.
Still, the Channel 13 report said that even if bringing in the third-party was not illegal, that there was internal disagreement among police about whether it was proper.
In addition, reports indicate that the police tried to get Hefetz to switch lawyers so they could deal with a lawyer who would more likely negotiate a deal for Hefetz to turn state’s witness.
Police are allowed to and often use various kinds of pressure to get potential suspect-lieutenants to turn against their mastermind-bosses, but it is illegal to specifically press them to switch lawyers.
Often, suspects who decide to cut a deal switch lawyers of their own accord, but this cannot be done by pressure.
Also, on Tuesday, Justice Ministry oversight czar Judge David Rozen issued a public report calling law enforcement leaks of classified testimony to police against the prime minister and others a “blow to the state.”
Speaking to Israel Radio, Rozen was mostly focused on a case of law enforcement leaks unrelated to Netanyahu, although he said his criticism of law enforcement leaks applied to all cases, including the prime minister’s.
He called on Mandelblit to investigate both the specific leaks he flagged in his public report, as well as to undertake a system-wide review to prevent a future round of leaks.
Rozen rejected Justice Minister Amir Ohana’s idea of forcing prosecution officials to take polygraph tests about whether they had leaked information against Netanyahu to the media, but supported a probe into the issue.
Rozen’s call for a probe one day after Mandelblit rejected Netanyahu’s lawyers identical call for a probe could be a game-changer.
Rozen is not only the oversight czar for the prosecution, which gives him direct jurisdiction to seek a probe of leaks, but he was also the judge who convicted former prime minister Ehud Olmert in the Holyland case.
This means he cannot be attacked as a pro-Netanyahu operative as many in the legal establishment dismiss Ohana.
Returning to allegations of police improprieties against Hefetz, such as planting facts, reports indicate that even after Hefetz signed on as a state’s witness against Netanyahu that he supplied incorrect information.
According to the report by Channel 12, Hafetz expressed confusion before and after signing an agreement with the state.
“I’m already confused about what I remember from the investigation and what I really remember, its mixes up,” he said during his interrogation the day after he signed.
“Memory is not my strong side. I am weak about long-term [memory]: I will remember a lot of things now, but I’ll forget them in another six months,” he said on another occasion.
It was also reported that, based on telephone records, there was no triple meeting between Netanyahu, Elovitch and Hefetz during the 2015 election, despite Hefetz telling police that there had been such a meeting – something which the police may have asked him to say.
Rather, the only date when the three were together was four months before the election, on November 28, 2014.
When the police noted the contradictions and later invited Hefetz to correct the record, his new statements only clouded the issue further.
This issue was important because the police wanted to show a direct connection between Netanyahu issuing orders to Elovitch relating to Walla through Hefetz along with Hefetz passing on requests to Netanyahu about Bezeq on Elovitch’s behalf.
The report added that Hefetz was detained for 15 consecutive days, a long period for white-collar crimes.
Throughout the investigation, Hefetz complained about being bit by fleas while in detention cells, but allegedly did not receive requested treatment.
The pressure was meant to make him remember and sign a plea deal.
Mandelblit responded that the issues were raised before him during the October pre-indictment hearings and that his staff are establishing a process to check the claims.
Separately, he said that he and his staff are reviewing to what extent these claims impact the credibility of Hefetz’s accusations against Netanyahu or whether the accusations remain valid even if the police may have acted wrongly.
In Mandelblit’s lengthy February decision announcing an intent to indict Netanyahu, he noted that many of Hefetz’s text messages helped prove the case against Netanyahu independent of Hefetz’s verbal statements.
The attorney-general also said that the police had at all times told Hefetz that he must tell the truth, which could alleviate concerns that Hefetz manufactured testimony to please them and get a deal.
President of the Israel Bar Association Avi Himi said, “An enforcement agency cannot impose a publishing ban on suspicions without giving the public an explanation of what it is and why it is hidden.”
“Such conduct could seriously damage public confidence in the justice system,” he said.
Himi called on Rozen and the Police Investigation Department head to seriously probe the incident.”
He added, that “the enforcement apparatus is very dear to my heart and it is important that they operate professionally and fearlessly,” but that this did not give them a freehand to trample on a defendant’s rights.