Israeli police mount government corruption probe
January 26, 1997
Web posted at: 12:30 p.m. EST (1730 GMT)
JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Israeli police launched an investigation
Sunday into allegations of high-level political corruption
that some say could bring down Prime Minister Benjamin
Netanyahu's seven-month-old government.
State Prosecutor Edna Arbel ordered the investigation into
Netanyahu's ill-fated appointment of an attorney general days
after Israel's state-run Channel One reported that the
appointment was part of an illegal political deal.
Arbel said she would demand the station hand over its
evidence to police. If Channel One refuses, she said she
would consider filing a lawsuit to obtain the material.
"There is a supreme national interest in the exposure of most
of the material upon which the report was based," Arbel said.
"The revelation is also important for removing and dispelling
any suspicions against those not involved."
Netanyahu may even be summoned for questioning.
In its report, which first aired Wednesday, Channel One cited
anonymous sources who said lawyer Roni Bar-On was appointed
attorney general after promising to arrange a plea bargain
for Aryeh Deri, whose Shas Party holds a deciding vote in
Netanyahu's coalition government.
Deri is on trial for various embezzlement and fraud
According to the report, Shas also agreed to vote in favor of
the Hebron troop redeployment deal Netanyahu signed in
exchange for Bar-On's appointment. Bar-On, in turn, agreed,
to drop the court case against Deri, the station said.
Seven ministers in Netanyahu's 18-member Cabinet voted
against the Hebron agreement, reached after months of intense
negotiations. Opposition by Shas' two ministers might have
jeopardized the deal.
Cabinet: Government could collapse
Asked on television if the government could stay in office
if the allegations proved accurate, Internal Security
Minister Avigdor Kahalani said: "If the affair is in fact as
it appears, at least, there is no doubt that this government
has no place."
Cabinet Minister Natan Sharansky added, "If there was any
kind of bargain, I recommend to everyone involved to admit it
and resign because this is an unprecedented crime."
And in an editorial Sunday headlined "Earthquake," Israel's
Maariv newspaper said the report, if true, could change "the
entire political system."
"Heads are going to roll and people will go to prison," the
Officials deny allegations
Bar-On, who resigned within 12 hours of taking office
earlier this month amid a storm of criticism over his
political connections, denied the allegations,
as did Deri and Netanyahu.
Netanyahu on Friday accused the press of circulating an
unfounded "smear campaign" and called for a police
investigation. Channel One reporter Ayala Hasson, in a second
report later Friday, said her information indicated Netanyahu
did not know about the specific deal between Bar-On and Deri.
However, Channel One and Hasson have stood by the original
report and its sources.
"We will take this all the way. I'm not concerned, I'm not
scared and I'm not worried. We will protect our sources but
will act within the confines of the law," said Rafik Halabi,
editor of Channel One's nightly newscast.
Reuters contributed to this report.
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