Outgoing Justice Minister Threatens to Investigate Ex-State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan

Former State Prosecuter Shai Nitzan. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Likud has launched a coordinated strike against Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit and the state prosecution ahead of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s trial, which is set to start on May 24.

Outgoing Justice Minister Amir Ohana, Minister Miri Regev and others publicly attacked Mandelblit and the prosecution over the weekend. The attacks included a partial leak of a transcript, which was under gag order, to Channel 13 reporter Ayala Hasson relating to a 10-year-old affair, known as the “Harpaz Affair” in which Mandelblit was a suspect. At the time, Mandelblit was cleared and suspicions against him were deemed baseless.

Ohana said that former State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan “entered the Justice Ministry’s email system, ostensibly in violation of the law” and said he would call on State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman to look into the matter. Ohana threatened that if Englman does not comply, he would consider setting up a ministerial panel to investigate it.

In response, Nitzan said in a statement: “Justice Minister Ohana’s claim… is entirely unfounded and is part of his ongoing delegitimization campaign against me and the State Prosecution.”

Ohana was referring to a report on Channel 13, according to which Nitzan had used his official email, months after his retirement. Nitzan was put on a three-month leave at the end of his term, as were other civil servants. He said that he continued using his computer during that period, as he claimed is customary.

Ohana made his claim in a social media post, less than a week ahead of leaving the Justice Ministry as the planned swearing-in of a new government is set for Wednesday.

Ohana argued in his post that enhancing public confidence in law enforcement agencies should have been the top priority of these agencies, but that “these services are deeply stained by conflicts of interest, personal ties, cliques and irrelevant considerations, which prevent this from happening.”

He added that “there are growing suspicions, but there is currently no state prosecutor who could investigate this. In the meantime, there is a former state prosecutor who enters the Justice Ministry [computer] system, ostensibly violating the law.”

Ohana broadly attacked the Justice Ministry in his social media post, and brought up the Harpaz Affair, writing that he was “worried” about the legal system, saying “many before me identified in the legal system a sickness, vengeance, lack of transparency, decay.”

“There are people in the system who recognize it, but there is a great fear and dread about making things public,” he said. “Anyone with eyes can see the unprecedented decline in public confidence in the prosecutor’s office and legal counsel.”

In the Channel 13 video clip Ohana shared, journalist Ayala Hasson called for a recording of Mandelblit and Blue and White MK Gabi Ashkenazi to be made public. Ohana said the report “should really be an earthquake.”

Recordings of phone calls relating to the 2010 case surfaced in February, just weeks ahead of the March 2 election, shedding new light on Mandelblit’s uncomfortable position in the case.

In the case, Boaz Harpaz, a former IDF intelligence officer close to then-IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi produced a fake document purporting to be a public relations strategy for then-Southern Command chief Yoav Gallant’s campaign to become the next chief of staff.

The fake document recommended a smear campaign against Gallant’s rivals, including then-deputy chief of staff Benny Gantz, who would go on to be appointed IDF chief of staff in 2011 and later become Netanyahu’s chief rival for the premiership, before finally emerging as his political ally.

Mandelblit, who was the top military prosecutor at the time, was questioned under caution in 2014, when he was already out of uniform and serving as Netanyahu’s cabinet secretary.

Investigators suspected that Mandelblit may have helped Ashkenazi and his aides to hinder investigators by failing to tell them that Ashkenazi possessed the document — or indeed, that Ashkenazi was spreading it within the army and working to have it leaked to the press.

Mandelblit was eventually cleared after investigators concluded that he did not know that Ashkenazi possessed the document when he told state attorneys to seek it elsewhere.

Netanyahu went on to nominate Mandelblit as attorney general, with his appointment approved in January 2016.

The state prosecutor’s office said in response to Ohana’s post: “the conversation between Ashkenazi and Mandelblit that was discussed on Channel 13 was wiretapped, which became clear during Mandelblit’s interrogation at the time.”

“Everyone concerned believed that there is no legal possibility for the court to use the wiretapping as part of the investigation,” the statement said.