Panel questions police, prosecution procedures in Buhbout murder case

The Zeiler Committee, set up to probe how Southern District police handled the murder of Pinhas Buhbout, raised serious questions on Sunday about procedures at the police and the prosecutor's office. The panel of three questioned Ya'acov Brey, who was an officer in the Southern District investigations department between 1998 and 2001, about why the case was not dealt with for two years. One of the Brey's responsibilities was to carry out annual inspections of ongoing investigations, and the judges wanted to know whether the Buhbout case was one of those he inspected. "I remember it came up at an inspection, but I don't know what happened with it," Brey told the panel, which was led by retired Jerusalem District Court Judge Vardi Zeiler. Brey also couldn't remember when the case came up for inspection. "At the time, it wasn't perceived as a case that was out of the ordinary," Brey said. The judges pressed him on the supervision procedures in the department, and Brey said that due to a heavy workload, even important cases such as murders could escape oversight. However, Zeiler wasn't impressed with this explanation. "If there is a [murder] case that has been sitting for two years, there should be a red light on the eve of the inspection that indicates that it should be checked," he said, adding that the supervising officer should then provide direction for the investigators. Police believe that suspected southern crime bosses Oded and Sharon Perinian ordered the murder of Buhbout, who was shot to death in 1999 as he lay in a Sheba Hospital bed recuperating from a previous attempt on his life. The indictment brought in October against the brothers said they hired Jerusalem policeman Tzahi Ben-Or to carry out the hit. Ben-Or was arrested in 2000 for armed robbery and was afterward connected with the murder of Buhbout. He was released to house arrest in 2002 and fled the country after police and the State Attorney's Office failed to reach a state's witness agreement with him. Ben-Or was found murdered in Cancun, Mexico, in December 2004. During the hearing on Sunday, the committee also questioned prosecutor Yoav Kishon, who said that no single lawyer handled the case for the state. "We didn't set this up in an organized way," he said. The panel inferred from this that this meant "there was no central address" for the police to go to when working on the case. Asst.-Cmdr. Yoram Levy, head of the Southern District's Central Investigative Unit, has been accused of maintaining an inappropriate relationship with the Perinians, a relationship that the Police Investigative Department suspected assisted the crime brothers in escaping arrest on several occasions. The PID closed its case against Levy last year. Kishon said that he had doubts about Levy's professionalism, but that the officer's subordinates appreciated him. Kishon declined to give a detailed opinion in public, saying he preferred to do this behind closed doors.