Police question Netanyahu in inquiry of Bar-On affair

JERUSALEM, Feb. 18 (JTA) — Police have questioned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about allegations of corruption surrounding the appointment of an attorney general. Three senior police investigators, including Sando Mazur, who is overseeing the inquiry, arrived Tuesday evening at the prime minister’s Jerusalem office to question Netanyahu about the factors that led to the naming last month of Jerusalem lawyer Roni Bar-On as attorney general. Netanyahu also was expected to be questioned about the Jan. 10 Cabinet vote approving Bar-On’s appointment and about which of his aides were behind naming him for the post. The appointment of Bar-On, a veteran Likud activist and criminal lawyer, spurred sharp objections in both political and legal spheres. Opponents charged that he lacked the experience to hold Israel’s top legal post. Bar-On stepped down Jan. 12 shortly before his scheduled swearing-in. Two weeks later, the Cabinet unanimously approved District Judge Elyakim Rubinstein to serve as Israel’s next 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 one of Netanyahu’s political allies, Shas Knesset member Aryeh Deri, who is on trial for corruption. In turn, Deri reportedly promised his party’s crucial support for the Hebron agreement, which was coming up for Cabinet approval at the time. Israel Television later reported that Netanyahu was not believed to be directly involved in any alleged deal-making. The Bar-On affair is the latest scandal to plague the Netanyahu government. The first justice minister to serve in Netanyahu’s Cabinet, Ya’acov Ne’eman, is currently on trial for obstructing justice and interfering in Deri’s trial. A close Netanyahu ally, Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert, is being tried for financial irregularities dating back to the 1988 elections, when he served as Likud treasurer. Police also are investigating allegations that the head of the Prime Minister’s Office, Avigdor Lieberman, tried to sabotage the Israel Broadcasting Authority by deliberately padding the budget it submitted to the Knesset.

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