Zeiler Commission meets with cops' lawyers

The Zeiler Commission held its first public meeting in over a month on Sunday weeks after making headlines by delivering notices to top law enforcement officials warning them they could be negatively affected by the commission's conclusions. In the meeting, the three justices of the commission met with attorneys representing the officials warned in the report in order to hammer out the procedural details for the continuation of sessions. The investigative commission, led by retired district court justice Vardi Zeiler, met with attorneys representing all of the twelve officials who received warning letters, among them Police Commissioner Insp.-Gen. Moshe Karadi, Jerusalem District Cmdr. Ilan Franco, and Southern District attorney Iska Leibovitch. The meeting, which was less than three hours long, dealt specifically with two major subjects - the timetable of hearings over the next few months, and the availability of confidential information and testimony presented to the commission since its inception in December. Most of the attorneys called upon the commission to grant them access to all of the secret testimony and background information, arguing that any material that was inaccessible to attorneys should also not be considered by the tribunal when they offer their final recommendations. In considering the timetable for future hearings, Zeiler emphasized that Justice Minister Haim Ramon and Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter had extended the original end of June deadline for concluding hearings to an unlimited deadline. But Zeiler quoted the ministers in emphasizing that "there is a public interest to finish the hearings as quickly as possible." The commission has been tasked with probing allegations of police mishandling of the cases surrounding the 1999 murder of underworld criminal Pinhas Buhbout and elite police officer turned gangland assassin Tzahi Ben-Or. Oded and Sharon Perinian, alleged leaders of a southern crime family, are currently in jail awaiting trial in relation to the murders, but the trial has been delayed pending results of the commission's proceedings. Karadi's attorney Ro'i Blecher pled with Zeiler to take into consideration the 5,000 pages of testimony and documentary evidence presented before the commission in determining the timetable for the next set of hearings. Barring an alternative agreement, the timetable for calling witnesses would be set according to the list of warned individuals in the commission's interim report, Zeiler announced. Karadi heads up that list, and Blecher said he was concerned that he would be unable to read through all of the relevant information by the time the hearings began. While the police commander was not accused of any criminal offense, the committee's interim findings concluded that Karadi had not acted appropriately as the southern district commander. The committee cited poor judgment in dealing with the Buhbout and Ben-Or murder cases, alleged ties between Karadi's subordinate Asst.- Cmdr.Yoram Levy and the Perinians, and Karadi's appointment of Levy to serve as the head of the elite Southern District's Central Investigative Unit. After an extensive recess to consider the attorneys' requests, the commission reassembled and announced that further discussion on confidential information would be held in a month's time. Following that discussion, hearings featuring defense witnesses were slated to begin in the first week of September. In the interest of time, Zeiler insisted, the hearings in September would be held four days a week, a decision that prompted heavy protests from the assembled attorneys.