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Premier Hires Criminal Lawyer for Israeli Police Investigation

February 24, 1997
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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has hired a lawyer after police suggested that they might want to question him again about the controversial appointment of an attorney general last month.

“I was appointed to represent the prime minister in the matter of the investigation,” criminal lawyer Ya’acov Weinrot told Army Radio on Sunday.

Weinrot also confirmed Sunday that Netanyahu had hired him the night before.

Police questioned Netanyahu for four hours last week about the 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 one of Netanyahu’s political allies, Shas Knesset member Aryeh 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.

Should police investigators discover that Netanyahu gave in to pressure from Deri to appoint Bar-On, he could be charged with breach of public trust, the Israeli daily Ha’aretz reported Sunday.

After meeting Sunday with Edna Arbel, state attorney, to discuss the investigation, Weinrot said they did not discuss the content of Netanyahu’s testimony.

He said they discussed leaks to the media about the ongoing investigation, which he attributed to police sources.

“I was glad to see that we agreed on this matter, and that the parties involved have announced that no public statements will be made about the investigation until its conclusion,” Weinrot said.

Police sources were quoted Sunday by Israel Radio as saying that investigators were not satisfied with answers Netanyahu gave last week, and would consider questioning him again.

Last Friday, Israel Television reported that investigators warned Netanyahu that his answers could be used against him after he responded that he could not recall details of events surrounding Bar-On’s appointment.

Investigators also found contradictions in testimony given by Netanyahu and Cabinet Secretary Danny Naveh, the television station reported.

In light of the latest developments, Labor Party Secretary- General Nissim Zvilli called on his colleagues to prepare for early elections in the event that the investigation leads to criminal charges being filed and the fall of the current government.

Meretz leader Yossi Sarid called on Netanyahu to suspend himself pending the outcome of the inquiry.

Opposition leader Shimon Peres, and Ehud Barak, the front-runner to succeed Peres as head of Labor, distanced themselves from the early elections remarks, urging the opposition to wait for the outcome of the police investigation to end.

Netanyahu dismissed the opposition calls.

“What I hear from the opposition is that they are already getting ready for new elections, sewing new suits,” Netanyahu told reporters Sunday.

“My suggestion to them is to wait patiently. You have four years to be in the opposition, and after that, I plan to make sure you are there for another four years.”

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