Friedmann blasts failure to give Ramon wiretap transcripts

Conversations of Olmert's then-bureau chief and 2 others wiretapped during probe of allegations deputy PM committed indecent act.

friedmann 224.88 AJ (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski  [file])
friedmann 224.88 AJ
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann said Tuesday he has no choice but to appoint a government committee of inquiry into the failure of law enforcement officials to give Deputy Prime Minister Haim Ramon the transcripts of wiretapped conversations. Telephone conversations of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's then-bureau chief, Shula Zaken, and two others, were wiretapped during the police investigation of allegations that Ramon had committed an indecent act against a female soldier. In a sharp attack on the police and the state prosecution, Friedmann told the Parliamentary Committee into Wiretapping that if the contents of wiretapped conversations were helpful rather than harmful to a defendant's case, "the state apparently withheld them from his attorneys [during Ramon's trial in Tel Aviv Magistrate's Court.] The state came up with all kinds of explanations as to why [it had not handed over the material], but the court wrote about it as if the omission had bordered on malice," Friedmann said. "The situation is intolerable. I am convinced that there is no alternative but to establish a government committee of investigation with powers, because if it doesn't have powers, it will not do its job," Friedmann said. He criticized the police and state prosecution for opposing the establishment of a government-appointed committee headed by a judge. "The issue of Ramon himself is dwarfed by what has happened since," Friedmann said. "The battle that the law enforcement agencies are waging against an external investigation creates a very bad impression that they are extremely afraid that something terrible will happen." State Attorney Moshe Lador admitted that the state had erred in not handing the transcripts over to the defense, but said a committee appointed by Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz and headed by retired judge Shalom Brenner had determined that the mistake had not been deliberate. "Judge Brenner, who investigated the matter, concluded that there had certainly been no malice, not on the part of the police and not on the part of the state prosecution," Lador said. He also pointed out that the court had decided to convict Ramon after knowing their contents and that the transcripts had not originally been given to the defense. Ramon learned about the wiretapped conversations during his trial. The state immediately admitted that it had overlooked the evidence, and sent it to him. In its ruling, the court sharply criticized the state, writing that while it did not want to determine that the failure of the police was done maliciously, "we are at least talking about substantial negligence." It also took note in the ruling of the promise given in court by Cmdr. Yohanan Danino, head of the Police Investigations Department, to examine the matter. After the trial, the Knesset established a parliamentary committee to investigate the wiretapping procedures and consider amending the current law. During its deliberations, it also established a subcommittee to examine the Ramon affair. Meanwhile, Mazuz appointed Brenner to investigate the matter. Brenner, who had no staff and was not given the power to subpoena witnesses, concluded that the authorities had been guilty of severe negligence but not malice. Ramon, who had pressed Mazuz to investigate the affair, was dissatisfied with Brenner's report and complained to Friedmann and Public Security Minister Avi Dichter. The two appointed another judge, Vardi Zeiler, to study Brenner's report. Zeiler recommended appointing a government committee to investigate the affair. After receiving Zeiler's report, Dichter decided to drop the matter. Friedmann has been considering Zeiler's recommendation ever since, and make it clear on Tuesday he intended to act on it. He received some support from the Parliamentary Committee of Investigation into Wiretapping, which voted unanimously to urge Friedmann to establish a committee of investigation. However, it did not specify that the committee should be established according to the Basic Law: Government and with the prerogatives accorded to a government-appointed committee. MK Yitzhak Aharonovich, a former Israel police deputy commander, said he opposed establishing a government committee of examination because it would disrupt the ongoing work of the police and the state prosecution and force some of their officials to hire lawyers to defend themselves. This would further complicate matters at a time when both branches were overwhelmed with work, he said.