Court warns PM against disrupting investigation

Rules A-G could temporarily suspend Olmert if he were uncooperative, but suspension not yet in cards.

Olmert worried 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
Olmert worried 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
The High Court of Justice on Monday left open the possibility that Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz might be able to declare Prime Minister Ehud Olmert incapable of fulfilling his duties should the prime minister obstruct the criminal investigations against him. The ruling was handed down in response to a petition by Yoav Yitzhak, who runs the internet news site News First Class. Yitzhak demanded that Mazuz declare Olmert incapable of serving as prime minister so that he would have time to be interrogated by police on a daily basis. Olmert is currently undergoing five police investigations. The police have concluded a sixth investigation and handed the material over to the state prosecution with a recommendation to close the file. Yitzhak added that, short of his main demand, he had called on Mazuz to order Olmert to show up for police questioning "as necessary." Since the beginning of the Talansky affair, Olmert has rejected several requests to be questioned and determined the number of hours he would make himself available to police, citing his heavy work schedule. Deputy Supreme Court President Eliezer Rivlin and Justices Asher Grunis and Yoram Danziger rejected the petition but added that "there could be reason for the attorney-general to declare that the prime minister is temporarily incapable of fulfilling his responsibilities should he make it impossible to properly carry out the criminal investigations against him." The court ruled that for the time being, it was prepared to accept Mazuz's opinion that the question of "temporary incapacity" was first and foremost for Olmert to decide and after that up to the political echelon and public opinion. The justices added that Article 16 (b) of the Basic Law: Government, which discusses temporary incapacity, does not specify who is authorized to determine that the prime minister is temporarily incapable of fulfilling his responsibilities. Therefore, even if the court ruled that Olmert did indeed obstruct the criminal investigations against him, it would first have to determine whether the law authorized the attorney-general to declare the prime minister temporarily incapacitated. The court also stressed that the attorney-general and the police [and not the prime minister] were the ones who had the power to determine when the prime minister was to be interrogated but that it had to take into account the "special constraints" stemming from the position of prime minister. It added that it was "clear that the attorney-general has the power and authority regarding the times of the interrogation and that the prime minister must cooperate with the investigation officials and act as he is obliged to act in the complex circumstances." Olmert's spokesman, Amir Dan, issued a statement after the ruling saying that the High Court "explicitly determined that it rejected the petition and that the declaration of incapacity is only done in exceptional, rare and extraordinary circumstances. The High Court also determined that the law enforcement authorities must take into consideration the special constraints stemming from the post of prime minister when coordinating the dates of the investigation." Yitzhak, the petitioner, said he was "very happy about the High Court decision. Under the circumstances, I got more than I expected. I hope that on the basis of the verdict, the attorney-general will order investigations to be conducted as quickly as possible even if the police have to question Olmert every day to complete the investigations as quickly as possible and get rid of him." Former National Fraud Unit senior investigator Dep.-Cmdr (ret.) Boaz Guttman described the court's warning to Olmert as little more than "idle chatter." "This sounds like a joke. As usual, the High Court is stuttering, and acting with fear. Olmert has disrupted the investigation, he is disrupting it now, and he will disrupt it in the future," Guttman said, adding that Mazuz will likely "do nothing." The publication of transcripts of police interrogations of Olmert in the media formed a clear attempt to disrupt the investigation, Guttman said. "The only question is, will the police and Mazuz gather evidence to show that Olmert was involved in the disruption of the investigation and the disturbing of witnesses? If they did this, the High Court wouldn't have to make threats," he added. Yaakov Lappin contributed to this report.