'Vigilante cops' now being protected

Investigators say policemen charged with planting bombs against crime bosses 'crossed all red lines.'

david cohen 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
david cohen 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Even with the members of the criminal family that they targeted safely behind bars, police and Justice Ministry officials expressed fear Thursday for the lives of the police officers involved in the Nahariya bomb-planting scandal and the well-being of their families. Those concerns are serious enough for the police to now be providing security for the families of all five of the policemen suspected of involvement in the affair, Police Chief Insp.-Gen. David Cohen said. Cohen made the comment during a briefing in which he described the police response to the Nahariya police scandal in which, according to the Justice Ministry's Police Investigative Department (PID), five veteran police investigators and intelligence experts teamed up with a civilian explosives expert to plant bombs targeting two figures in the Nahariya underworld. A months-long gag order on the case was lifted Thursday morning after indictments were delivered in the Haifa District Court against three policemen, one officer and one civilian. A fourth policeman, who turned state's witness last week, was not present at the indictment, and will be charged at a later date. The five veteran investigators and intelligence experts, including an officer with the rank of chief-superintendent, allegedly teamed up with a civilian explosives expert to build pipe bombs described by investigators as "complex" and then planted them under the vehicle of Nahariya crime boss Michael Mor and on the windowsill at the home of Mor's nephew, another known criminal. At least two of the policemen, including the state's witness, have confessed to their involvement in the case. The policemen, however, emphasized that they had not meant to kill the targets, but rather were trying to intimidate them and possibly provoke them into taking revenge, whereupon the policemen could arrest them. PID assistant head Shlomo Lemberger said Thursday that his department's investigators were unable to meet the burden of proof to assert that the police had intended otherwise. As a result, the indictment against the six is based on charges of assembling and planting explosives, but not of attempted murder. The explosives-related charges carry a maximum sentence of 15 years, and the five policemen will also face charges of violation of the public trust. The incident "crossed all the red lines of the role of law enforcement," Lemberger said. "The severity of the case is not due to the results but rather in the very existence of the incident itself - of police officers who adopted the techniques of organized criminals," he said. "This is a true blurring of the norms that are meant to be the basic foundations of law enforcement." Lemberger went on to describe the PID's probe as "one of the hardest and most complex investigations in the 15-year history of the PID," adding that the policemen in question had been extremely difficult to "crack" because of their confidence that they had taken the correct steps, as well as their years of experience at the other side of the interrogation table. He described how when the policemen were brought in for remand extensions, lines of their fellow cops waited for them outside of the courtroom, kissing them, wishing them luck and telling them to stay strong. Throughout the investigation, the police emphasized that they were acting in response to a long line of threats against their families and even grenade attacks at their homes. Whether or not they are found guilty in court - and, according to PID investigators, the evidence is strong enough that a conviction is likely - their police careers are over, Cohen said hours after the PID announcement. But Cohen and Lemberger both emphasized that they believed this was an isolated incident and that there were no others involved in the conspiracy. "It is a severe but isolated incident," Cohen said. "These are good policemen without previous disciplinary problems who severely erred in their judgment." "I have no intention of setting up an inquiry commission, I am personally sick of commissions," said Cohen, adding that he preferred to view the incident as a wake up call to improve the feeling of personal security among policemen, and to confront the level of violence in Israeli society as a whole and specifically the violent activities of organized crime. Cohen said that even now, another two officers and four policemen in the northern district remain under tight personal security on a daily basis because of threats to which they are still exposed in their work cracking the police case against the Mor crime family. Cohen added that he himself had been the target of threats by criminals and that in 1994, as head of the Tel Aviv Central Investigative Unit, his car was torched. Nevertheless, the police chief added, "I have served on the police force for 30 years and I have never come across police officers who so callously take the law into their own hands."