No regrets, Yohanan Danino tells 'Post'

Cop who headed Katsav probe won't publicly criticize Mazuz; says Olmert's Cremieux probe nearly done.

Danino 248.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Danino 248.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Many critics have denounced what they describe as the fumbling of the case against former president Moshe Katsav by Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz. But Cmdr. Yohanan Danino - today the head of the police's Southern District, but until recently the head of the Investigations Branch - won't join the chorus of criticism publicly. Danino hinted, however, that he had much to say to Mazuz behind closed doors. At the end of 2006, Danino headed a three-month investigation of Katsav after a female Tourism Ministry employee, identified only as "Aleph," said Katsav had sexually harassed and raped her while he served as tourism minister from 1998 to 1999. Danino concluded that the evidence gathered in the police investigation justified a rape charge, and passed the findings on to the state prosecution - only for Mazuz to eventually reach a plea bargain with Katsav that excluded any mention of rape. After Katsav bailed out of that plea bargain last year, the rape charge was reintroduced by Mazuz this week. "If you look at our summary of the evidence, there's not a big gap between our findings and a rape charge," Danino said. "I can think of many things [to say], but if I have criticisms of the prosecution, they will be heard privately, behind closed doors" he added. "After we passed on our findings, the police's role was finished," Danino said. "Law enforcement must act in unison." Danino also oversaw the plethora of investigations into outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, including the three cases for which police have already recommended that Olmert stand trial: The Talansky "cash envelopes" affair, the Rishon Tours affair and the Investment Center case. Police are now close to completing a fourth investigation, known as the "Cremieux home" affair, in which the premier is suspected of purchasing an apartment on Jerusalem's Cremieux Street from its developer, the Alumot MG Engineering Corporation, at a significant discount, while serving as acting prime minister in 2004. According to suspicions, Olmert shortened bureaucratic processes for Alumot in the Jerusalem municipality in exchange for the discount. "When I left the Investigations Branch, we were very close to the end of that investigation," Danino said. "I estimate that completion is not far off." Approximately two months after leaving the Investigations Branch, Danino, who has a rich legal background and is considered to be one of the police's most able investigators, has had time to reflect on his former role. Asked what it felt like to investigate a serving prime minister, Danino said, "It's a lot of responsibility on your shoulders. Every decision you take must be thoroughly examined, and all relevant aspects must be taken into consideration." Danino also managed the ongoing investigation into Israel Beiteinu head Avigdor Lieberman, who has petitioned the High Court to force the police to either close their case against him for good, or complete it and hand it off to prosecutors for trial. Danino said the two-and-a-half-year delay in the Lieberman investigation was "fully justified" and resulted from new evidence that had surfaced during the investigation. He added, however, that the "Achilles heel" of law enforcement in Israel was drawn-out investigations. "The length of proceedings means that deterrence is lost and public confidence fades. During my time as head investigator, I worked to frame investigations around the most concrete elements," Danino said. His reforms constituted "a form of a compromise," Danino conceded, since additional case materials could be left out, but the changes came out of the acknowledgment that the longer an investigation dragged out, the less deterrence police would have. Danino, 49 and a father of four, is a native of Ashkelon. He hails from a religious family and attended the city's Or Zion yeshiva. He was drafted into the Paratroopers, where he served as a company commander of Unit 890. Danino went on to study law, and became a prosecutor before joining the police. He gradually rose through the ranks, and has headed the Community Policing Branch and the National Serious and International Crimes Unit. During his time as head investigator, Danino pioneered methods in fighting organized crime, using US and European police tactics as models, and implemented reforms that saw the Tax Authority and the Israel Securities Authority brought into the war on crime. He also prioritized the introduction of cutting-edge technology for detectives and forensic officers. Two months ago, as rockets rained down across the South during Operation Cast Lead, Danino's appointment as head of the Southern District, originally scheduled for May, was bumped up by Police Commissioner Insp.-Gen David Cohen. Today, Danino heads a district that covers two-thirds of Israel's territory and that shares hundreds of kilometers of its border with Egypt, Gaza and the West Bank. "In the past 24 hours, seven rockets have hit this area," Danino said, speaking in an office in Sderot's police station. "That means sirens went off seven times, and people took cover. This is absurd." Danino has vowed to tackle violent crime across the district, promising a zero-tolerance approach to crimes such as extortion. "If masked men who throw stun grenades to extract protection money think we won't get to them, they are wrong," he warned. Like his predecessor Cmdr. Uri Bar-Lev, Danino believes that good policing cannot rely on force and punishment alone. Taking the issue of blood feuds within the Beduin community as an example, Danino said an overall "package" was needed to help young Beduin stay in school, take up sports and find jobs, and called for an overall improvement in the basic conditions of Beduin in the South. "The unemployment rate in the Beduin community is sky-high. Is it any wonder that many youths end up in crime?" he asked. While acknowledging Bar-Lev's success in bringing crime down significantly in the South, Danino said he still had a lot of work ahead of him. "We will continue to decrease crime levels," he said. Danino said he was committed to leading by personal example and staying in close contact with rank-and-file officers. "There is no point in a commander telling officers to do one thing while [he's] doing another," he said. Unlike many senior officers, Danino has never used his siren to overtake traffic, even when he was running late to a meeting with the prime minister and the cabinet. He has also set up an Internet site for police officers to send him private messages, in which they can discuss any matter weighing heavily on their hearts. Danino has already received many messages, and hopes that the service - which is modeled on a system set up by the CEO of the Cellcom cellular phone company - will improve communication with his officers. "It could help in mapping out problems," Danino said.