Gov't approves appointment of Witness Protection Authority director
Retired police veteran Aryeh Livne to head new department.
By JOSHUA BRANNON
The government approved on Sunday Interior Security Minister Avi Dichter's recommendation to appoint Aryeh Livne as director of the fledgling Witness Protection Authority.
Livne, 53 and a father of three, will become the first director of the authority, which was approved in January 2006 under the government of
then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
He was described by Internal Security Ministry officials as a respected veteran of the police with an exemplary service record that included duties as head of Police Intelligence and Investigations and Commander of the Southern District.
He retired from the police in 2003 and since 2004 has worked as an attorney for Ometz, the non-profit organization for social justice and transparent government.
A committee of representatives from the Police and Internal Security, Justice, and Finance ministries recommended the establishment of the witness protection program in July 2002 as a strategy to streamline the enforcement and prosecution of organized crime figures, which the committee found had been alarmingly successful in their efforts to intimidate potential witnesses.
According to figures provided by the Internal Security Ministry, the program will be given an annual budget of NIS 30m.-50m. to provide an estimated 100 participants a year with "a secure location with around-the-clock security, as well as psychological assistance enabling them to confront the pressures and dangers throughout the trial."
Internal Security Ministry officials insisted the funds allocated to the program each year would be money well spent in that it would increase the appeal and the civil duty to testify honestly, whether in court or at the police station.
"The Witness Protection Authority will contribute to the completion of the criminal process and help to solve the common, yet usually under reported problem of witnesses who refuse to testify out of fear for their lives," a ministry statement read.
"Severe punishment [will be meted out] to all those who might threaten witnesses or hurt them, even after their testimony, up until the danger ceases to exist," the statement said.
In extreme instances, the witness and his/her family would be provided with a hideout abroad and the witness's identity changed, including the possibility of plastic surgery. In November 2005, then Internal Security Minister Gideon Ezra met with his counterpart Monika Lamperth in Budapest and reached an agreement that would allow Israeli witnesses to relocate to Hungary.
Ministry officials said the the authority was created using similar models in Europe and the United States, and provides a comprehensive framework for the treatment of threatened witnesses.
Another advantage of a distinct authority was that a burden was lifted from the the thinly-stretched police forces, which had previously been responsible for witness protection under a restricted budget, and without professionally qualified staff or defined regulations.
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