Police win control of witness protection program

In a months-long dispute, the Justice Ministry lost nascent program to Internal Ministry.

high court of justice 88 (photo credit: )
high court of justice 88
(photo credit: )
Following months of arguments and haggling, Gideon Ezra beat out Tzipi Livni on Sunday and succeeded in convincing law-enforcement officials to make the soon-to-be-established witness protection authority subordinate to the Internal Security Ministry and not Livni's Justice Ministry. Last month, Ezra and Livni - both senior members of the inter-ministerial anti-crime committee - clashed over which ministry would assume responsibility over the witness protection authority. Ezra argued that the Internal Security Ministry, which he headed, should be in charge because the police would be deeply involved in the protection of witnesses. Livni claimed that the Justice Ministry needed to be in charge since the State Prosecutor's Office was responsible for brokering deals with state's witnesses. On Sunday, however, Livni and Ezra decided during a meeting with Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz, State Prosecutor Eran Shendar and Treasury officials that the authority would be under the Internal Security Ministry. Shendar, the sides agreed, would lead a steering committee that will lay down the guidelines for the program and determine which witnesses would be eligible to receive protection. Internal Security Ministry officials said they planned to bring the program to the cabinet next Sunday for approval. "It will be up and running in the coming months," they estimated. The authority, they stressed, would operate independent of the police, the Prisons Service and the State Prosecutor's Office. "The establishment of this authority will send a clear message regarding the importance the state gives to protecting witnesses," the officials said. Officials said that a specially-trained security task force would be created under the authority to provide protection for "high-risk" witnesses. According to an internal report, at least 20 witnesses join the "high-risk" list annually. The establishment of the authority is based on recommendations made by a committee led by former Jerusalem district attorney Moshe Lador. The recommendations included moving witnesses to countries abroad and changing their identities with the possibility of plastic surgery. While these have not yet been fully implemented, Ezra met with Hungarian Interior Minister Monika Lamperth in Budapest in November and reached an agreement that would allow Israeli witnesses to relocate to Hungary.