'No conflict of interest in Ramon wiretap probe'

Says top aide to Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann; Two conflicting reports already out on affair.

friedmann bein 298.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
friedmann bein 298.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
A senior aide to Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann on Wednesday dismissed allegations by the Ma'ariv daily that Friedmann had business ties with retired judge Vardi Zeiler, who recently published a stinging report on the wiretapping of former justice minister Haim Ramon's phone calls. The newspaper reported on Wednesday that Friedmann and Zeiler "are business partners in an active real estate company in the vicinity of Atlit." Friedmann's aide, attorney Guy Rotkopf, told The Jerusalem Post the minister and Zeiler were law school classmates and had been friends for decades, and that they bought the land in question together 45 years ago as an investment for their children. Critics of Friedmann accused him of asking Zeiler to study the Ramon wiretapping affair in the expectation that he would come up with a damning report about the conduct of the police and prosecution after another retired judge, Shalom Brenner, who had earlier been appointed by Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz to investigate the subject, had not reached harsh conclusions. In the wake of the Brenner report, no steps were taken against anyone involved in the affair. Zeiler, on the other hand, harshly criticized the police and prosecution and recommended that Friedmann establish a government committee of examination to look into it. The critics suspect that Friedmann was using the wiretapping affair to attack the police and prosecution for having investigated and indicted Ramon in the first place. Not long before he was appointed justice minister in February 2007, Friedmann wrote a scathing article about the Ramon trial in Yediot Aharonot, in which he went as far as to allege that the prosecution had been out to get Ramon. The wiretapping affair began while Ramon was on trial on charges of sexually harassing a female IDF officer at the Prime Minister's Office in Tel Aviv on July 12, 2006. During the investigation, Ramon learned that the police had wiretapped dozens of his conversations and transcribed three of them, which were included in the evidence. When the prosecution handed over the evidence to Ramon's lawyers to prepare for the trial, it did not include the three transcriptions. Ramon charged that the police and prosecution had deliberately withheld the evidence to conceal the fact that they had wiretapped his conversations and because the transcripts were helpful to his defense. The prosecution apologized for the incident but said it had been a mistake and not deliberate. It said the police had forgotten to include the transcripts and that the prosecution, which knew about the wiretaps, had forgotten to ask for them when they handed over the evidence to Ramon's lawyer. During Ramon's trial, the court sharply criticized the state for the oversight. Afterwards, Mazuz appointed Brenner to look into the incident. Brenner found that the police and the prosecution had not deliberately withheld information from Ramon, even though they were guilty of "a great deal of negligence." He did not recommend taking any measures against any of those involved. Rotkopf told the Post that Friedmann felt the affair had been much more serious than Brenner had concluded and turned to Zeiler to prepare an independent report. Zeiler issued the report on February 6. In it, he wrote that the police had amassed an enormous amount of power and that "the misuse of that power could undermine the foundations of the country. If this misuse of power is increased, and the focus of that power, the National Fraud Squad, becomes an 'interested party' in the outcome of the investigation it is conducting, and, as such, conceals from the suspect investigation material which could benefit him or indicate improper police conduct, this could be another nail in the coffin of deteriorating public ethics." Earlier this week, State Attorney Moshe Lador wrote a letter blasting Zeiler's report. Meanwhile, Rotkopf said Friedmann was still considering whether to call for a government committee of examination into the wiretapping affair.