Independent commission established to investigate Sela escape

On Sunday, an independent commission began its own investigation, trying to uncover how a chain of critical errors enabled the 34-year-old to flee police custody. The commission was established hours after Sela's escape Friday morning, when Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter pulled rank on Karadi and announced the creation of the panel to look into how Sela managed to escape police guards after receiving a summons to a nonexistent court hearing in Tel Aviv. The ensuing manhunt - the largest criminal manhunt in Israel's history - has cost the public more than NIS 4 million, and Sela's escape has alarmed women throughout the country who fear the serial rapist could strike again. "Everything is open before you, you are permitted to do everything that you need to in order to carry out your work," Dichter told the commission, headed by Maj.-Gen. (res.) Amos Yaron at its opening session late Sunday afternoon, held in Dichter's Tel Aviv office. "I need this report. The police need this report. The nation wants and is awaiting this report," Dichter said. In the commission's mandate, the minister requested that the members "test all of the implications of my instructions to transfer the entire role of detention and transporting prisoners to the Israel Prisons Service." This request referred to an issue close to Dichter's heart, and one that he noted in his first-ever press conference as minister: giving the IPS sole jurisdiction over prisoners, both criminal and security. At the first session, the commission members built preliminary timetables for their investigation, including locations that they will visit and lists of people they will call to testify. Testimony began at that first session with Tel Aviv Central Investigative Unit commander Asst.-Cmdr. Dan Avimeir and Ch.-Supt. Moni Meshulam, the CIU detective who is investigating the circumstances behind the escape. On Monday, the commission members were expected to visit Eshel Prison in Beersheba, where Sela spent the last five years. The commission will meet with the head of the Israel Prisons Service's Southern Bloc, Deputy Warden Avi Vaknin, Eshel Prison Commander Deputy Warden Yossi Mikdash and other IPS officers. Among the officers they were to meet was IPS Security head Deputy Warden Miki Halfon, who was originally slated to be the IPS representative to the Yaron Commission, but was replaced hours before its first session. Also on Sunday, police investigators confirmed that due to a mistake by a court secretary, Sela was in fact scheduled for a hearing at the Tel Aviv Labor Court on Friday - a day on which hearings are not held. Initial evidence indicated the secretary realized the mistake after printing out the summons and canceled the appointment, but that the summons had already been sent. Courts Administration spokeswoman Rivka Aharoni said Sunday that the Prisons Service should have noticed that the summons was incomplete and phoned the court, at which point they would have been informed that the summons was a mistake. A second embarrassing detail was reported by Channel 1 late Sunday night - the Prisoner Escort Unit that was responsible for Sela when he escaped had already been cited for corruption and bad management. According to the report, 15 policemen in the unit are under investigation for allegedly running - together with known criminals - a "pirate bank," and as early as eight weeks ago, Tel Aviv District Commander Cmdr. David Tzur had ordered the unit's commander to leave his position. But two months later, the unit is facing harsh criticism for its performance on Friday, and the commander remains in place.