Comptroller to probe Ramon wiretapping

Cabinet okays compromise, rejects establishment of governmental c'tee of inquiry by 16 votes to 1.

friedmann mazuz 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
friedmann mazuz 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss said Sunday he "would do his best to investigate the various questions regarding wiretapping fairly, professionally and efficiently." His statement came after the cabinet voted 16 - 1 in favor of a compromise that will send the Haim Ramon wiretapping affair to the State Comptroller instead of to a government committee of inquiry. The decision came at the end of a heated and angry four-hour cabinet discussion in which Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann and Vice Premier Haim Ramon had squared off against Attorney General Menachem Mazuz. Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter cast the lone dissenting vote. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, a close friend of Ramon's and facing his own legal woes, did not vote. At the beginning of the vote, Friedmann had turned to Mazuz and asked him who can vote, and who had a conflict of interest, to which Mazuz replied that with the exception of Ramon, everyone could participate. Mazuz wanted Ramon to leave the room but Ramon refused, and at a certain point in the debate said that if there was anyone who had a conflict of interest, it was Mazuz. "There is nobody to whom one can complain against the state attorney," Ramon said. "There is nothing that would help the average citizen more than this committee. If the committee is established, the police will know that there is somebody to check on it and that nothing is dealt with in back rooms." Friedmann, who had pushed for the commission of inquiry, blasted Mazuz, saying that, "the attorney-general doesn't listen to anyone. He does what he wants and writes letters contrary to state regulations," referring to a letter Mazuz sent cabinet ministers attacking the proposal to establish a government-appointed committee and charging that Friedmann was abusing his authority. "The position of attorney-general is an extremely respected one, but he cannot run to the media like that [to speak out against] an appointed minister," said Friedmann. "He can criticize, but not in such a manner. I don't understand. Is there a separate authority called the attorney-general? He is subordinate to a minister. He can criticize but not in such a disparaging way, which can be seen as undermining authority." Mazuz was adamant in the meeting that there was no room for a commission of inquiry. "There was a conclusive decision by the court [which convicted Ramon of committing an indecent act] that no one appealed," he said. "Now they want to open up the whole issue again after a year and a half. There is no reason to establish a state commission of inquiry." State Attorney Moshe Lador supported Mazuz and said the establishment of the committee would damage the public's trust in the police and the state attorney. After the charged meeting, Dichter, in an interview with Israel Radio, said Ramon's participation in the cabinet meeting "disgraced the government." He said he opposed the resolution, because the State Comptroller did not need a cabinet decision to begin this type of investigation. Defense Minister Ehud Barak said in the meeting that Friedmann's recommendation to establish a government committee of examination would be interpreted as an attempt to place pressure on the investigators, police and state attorney. Friedmann's proposal would portray the government as the body that "personally appoints and determines the authority of those investigating it." Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, meanwhile, told the cabinet that the whole debate "did not add honor to the government, and will not increase the trust in any of its branches. There was no reason to discuss the personal matter of a minister," she said. Friedmann, Mazuz and Lador were quick to issue statements expressing satisfaction with the decision. After the meeting, Mazuz and Lador issued a statement saying, "We express our satisfaction over the fact that at the end of the cabinet debate, most of the ministers came to the conclusion that the request of the minister of justice that the government appoint a committee of examination to investigate 'the conduct of the state prosecution and the police in the Haim Ramon case' should not be approved." They pointed out that the government mandated in general terms - without mentioning the Ramon affair - that the state comptroller look into "the issue of wiretappings in criminal investigations, the way they are carried out, the use made of the output and complaints that have been raised about them in recent years." Mazuz said he had never had any objection to an examination of the overall question of wiretapping by the state comptroller, as opposed to the original initiative in which the government would have appointed a committee of examination to look into the specific question of "the conduct of the law enforcement authorities in the Ramon case." Mazuz and Lador pointed out that the state comptroller always had the right to carry out such an investigation and had indeed done so a few years back. Friedmann issued a statement saying "the decision, approved by an overwhelming majority against the position of the minister for public security, constitutes a partial step on the way to establishing external supervision over the law enforcement system. The government decided today that it would no longer make do with internal investigations as they have been carried out until now by the police, the state prosecution, and the state attorney and his staff."