Homeless whistle-blower gets indictment for allegedly harassing police

Rafi Rotem allegedly repeatedly harassed public servants, including police from the north Tel Aviv precinct.

Rafi Rotem 370 (photo credit: Ben Hartman)
Rafi Rotem 370
(photo credit: Ben Hartman)
A 13-page indictment presented on Tuesday for the first time to homeless Tax Authority whistle-blower Rafi Rotem contained accusations of repeated harassment of public servants, including police from the north Tel Aviv precinct.
In most of the alleged cases listed in the indictment, Rotem, a longtime intelligence officer with the Tel Aviv branch of the Tax Authority’s investigations department, sent faxes or called police on dozens of occasions, typically referring to them as corrupt or incompetent. Rotem, according to the allegations, sends faxes on a near-daily basis to all kinds of people – heads of the Israel Police and the Public Security Ministry (in charge of Israel Police), the State Comptroller’s Office, State Prosecutors and journalists who have since stopped answering his calls.
As Rotem and his lawyer have not yet had a chance to view the document, the court set the next hearing for mid-February.
Rotem, who for the past several years has been living on the street, first began working as an investigator for the Tax Authority in 1984. In 2003, he was one of 15 senior authority investigators who complained of corruption within the organization’s ranks.
The so-called “document of the 15” called for a commission of inquiry into allegations of corruption inside the authority, including what it alleges are connections between then senior Tax Authority officials and known crime figures in Israel who were subject to investigations by the authority.
Among the 14 officials who joined Rotem in the complaint in 2003 was Shuki Mashul, then head of the Tel Aviv branch of the authority’s VAT department, whom the authority terminated in 2006 in what he and Rotem say was payback for speaking out – a charge the Tax Authority denies. Mashul joined Rotem at the courthouse on Tuesday morning, where he called the proceedings a disgrace.
Mashul made mention of a Facebook post on Monday by Labor Party leader Shelly Yacimovich, in which she accused Ashdod Port union head Alon Hassan of being a “corrupt thug.”
“So when an elected leader goes on Facebook and publicly says someone is corrupt, it’s OK, but when a private citizen sends a fax calling someone corrupt, it’s harassment, it’s an indictment?” he wrote.
“The State of Israel wants Rafi Rotem dead, that’s how they want this to end,” Rotem said about his case, adding, ”I’m not afraid of them, they can lock me up for 100 years if they want to. This is the biggest mafia case there has ever been in Israel.”
Rotem, a 51-year-old native of Jaffa’s “Bulgarian neighborhood,” has been on an unpaid leave of absence since 2005, not long after he was reassigned to work as a clerk at a Tax Authority branch in Ramle in 2004, which he said was punishment for speaking out. He spends his nights on the street, sleeping in hotel lobbies, in his car or on a friend’s couch when he’s lucky. He gets by scrounging together a few shekels a day for a roll with some cold cuts, supplementing the sandwiches with free samples from supermarkets in north Tel Aviv. The rest of his worldly belongings – including dozens of boxes full of documents from his years as an intelligence officer with the Tel Aviv branch of the Tax Authority’s investigations department – are crammed inside a storage locker underneath the offices of the Ma’ariv newspaper in Tel Aviv.
Rotem has been the subject of a number of recent TV and radio news segments covering his case. In a column in Ha’aretz in June, headlined “The corruption fighter who became homeless,” former MK Aryeh Eldad said Rotem “lost everything since he set out on his campaign for justice, including home, family and property. He lives on the street. And it’s a horrible lesson for anyone considering exposing an act of corruption.”
The Tax Authority has repeatedly denied all of Rotem’s allegations, saying that he and Mashul “have chosen to use the media to settle their personal accounts with their managers” and that there has been no proof found to substantiate any of their allegations.