Attorney outlines failed deal with cop-turned-killer

The Zeiler Committee seemed to be interested in tying up loose ends Sunday morning, as it called to the stand Southern District Attorney Yisca Leibowitz and former Southern Central Investigative Unit chief Benny Sagiv, both of whom had already appeared in the crowded committee room to offer testimony. Leibowitz faced the more probing questioning of the two, as she was asked questions dealing with the failed plea-bargain with elite-cop-turned-gangland-killer Tzahi Ben-Or, the role of her subordinate, Hanna Meged, in the 1998 Batteries Affair, and about her own personal opinion of alleged dirty cop Asst.-Cmdr. Yoram Levy. During last week's testimony, questions arose as to why attempts to negotiate a deal with Ben-Or to testify as a state's witness, a deal that could have potentially sealed the case against the Negev's Perinian crime family in the 1999 killing of gangster Pinhas Buhbout, failed. According to previous testimony, the prosecutor and the police failed to agree on the conditions for an agreement to turn Ben-Or into a state's witness. Ben-Or initially demanded full immunity in exchange for his testimony, while Leibowitz allegedly insisted that the former cop serve hard time. In absence of a deal, Ben-Or was released to house arrest and then fled to Mexico, where he was murdered. Leibowitz discussed the attempts at making a deal with Ben-Or, complaining that the former police officer had made too many requests in return for his testimony. Ben-Or, in an effort to bring about the deal, hinted that among the tidbits that he could offer the DA's office was information about links between the Perinians and "police officers from the Lahish Subdistrict." Leibowitz said that she could not recall Levy's name ever being mentioned by Ben-Or, but later confirmed that Ben-Or had said that the dirty officer held the rank of lieuntenant commander., Levy's rank at the time, and had hosted the Perinians for barbeques at his house. When pressed by the committee chairman, former District Court Judge Vardi Zeiler, for details as to who first made the connection between the dirty cop from Ben-Or's hints and Levy, Leibowitz said that she thought that it was then-head of the Southern District's Central Investigations Unit, Amir Gur, who introduced Levy's name. "Amir Gur really pushed the issue. He wanted everything to be his way and that was it," she said. Leibowitz's statement adds fuel to Levy's claims, during his own testimony, that the allegations against him were due in part to a bitter rivalry between Gur and Levy. The most heated part of the testimony came when the discussion moved to the topic of the 1998 Batteries Affair, in which Levy supposedly brokered a deal with the Perinians in which criminals would receive money for returning stolen batteries that they had, apparently, stolen themselves from IDF storehouses near Kiryat Gat. According to previous testimony, Leibowitz's subordinate, Meged, had okayed the deal before police continued with the exchange. When questioned, Meged had said that she did not remember making any such deal, but did not rule out the possibility that she could have - despite the fact that no documentation could be found. Zeiler repeatedly grilled Leibowitz about her subordinate's actions, calling on her to either justify or condemn Meged's statements to the committee. When Leibowitz refused, saying that she felt that the comment could be chalked up to "over-cautiousness" on Meged's part, Zeiler raised his voice at Meged, who, in turn, asked him "why do you have to be angry at me?" Finally Leibowitz agreed that if Meged consented to such a deal, without discussing it with her superiors, without filling out any paperwork, and managing the affair by telephone rather than through organized meetings, she would consider the incident "unacceptable but not criminal." Meged's testimony was one of the strongest testimonies in support of Levy. Leibowitz too sidestepped issues of Levy's criminal behavior, saying that her well-known difficulties with Levy were on a solely professional basis. "I don't think Yoram Levy is corrupt," she said. "I just saw a desire to get results, which he did in a backwards way." Instead, Leibowitz blasted the CIU, saying that "the professional conduct of the unit was not good." At the end of his brief and relatively uneventful testimony, Sagiv sought to overturn this image of the unit, which had also been conveyed in Police Commissioner Insp.-Gen. Moshe Karadi's testimony last week. Sagiv said that the negative image was unwarranted, and that "to state that the CIU has many unsolved murder files, and then to draw from this an understanding of the unit's quality, is inaccurate."