Israeli media: Justice Minister may be charged in Bar-On affair

JERUSALEM, Feb. 27 (JTA) — Israeli police investigators may recommend that charges be filed against Justice Minister Tzachi Hanegbi in connection with corruption allegations surrounding the short-lived appointment of an attorney general. Shas Knesset member Aryeh Deri and even Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu could also face charges, according to Israeli media reports Thursday. The reports indicated that Netanyahu may face a second round of police questioning. Leaks to the media that he and other officials may face charges of breaching the public trust drew an angry response from Public Security Minister Avigdor Kahalani, who said he would like to “personally question” the source of the leak, if indeed it came from police officials involved in the investigation. Officials at the State Attorney’s office strongly denied that any charges were being drawn up, and lashed out at the ongoing leaks that have accompanied the police investigation into the January appointment of Jerusalem lawyer and veteran Likud activist Roni Bar-On as attorney general. Bar-On won Cabinet approval Jan. 10, but stepped down two days later amid growing charges in political and legal spheres that he lacked the experience to hold Israel’s top legal post. Two weeks later, the Cabinet unanimously approved District Judge Elyakim Rubinstein to serve as Israel’s attorney general. The police investigation was launched after an Israel Television report alleged that Bar-On was appointed as part of a deal to provide a plea bargain to Deri, who is on trial for corruption. In turn, Deri allegedly promised his party’s support for the Hebron agreement, which was coming up for Cabinet approval at the time, the report said. According to Israeli media reports this week, police were considering whether there were grounds to charge Hanegbi with breach of trust because of the way he presented Bar-On as a candidate for attorney general. In January, when they were about to vote on Bar-On’s nomination, a number of Cabinet ministers said they were led to believe that Chief Justice Aharon Barak had approved of Bar-On. But Barak had opposed Bar-On’s appointment at the time, according to subsequent reports, which prompted questions whether Hanegbi had accurately conveyed to the Cabinet Barak’s sentiments. This week’s reports said police were investigating whether Deri had conveyed threats via mediators or otherwise to the prime minister that Bar-On should be appointed. When Netanyahu was questioned last week, senior police detectives formally advised him of his rights — a procedure followed when the person under questioning is formally suspected of having committed a crime. It was not clear whether police found any basis for charges that he had breached the public trust by capitulating to any alleged threats, or that he was aware of any deal surrounding the appointment. Alongside the escalating media speculation, it was also reported this week that police were having trouble finding evidence to back up some of the key allegations in the case.

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