Alleged Mob Ties Plague Israel’s Top Police Officer

Published May 26, 2006, issue of May 26, 2006.
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TEL AVIV — A judicial commission investigating police ties to a reputed crime family sent a letter of warning May 23 to the office of Israel’s national police commissioner, Moshe Karadi, one of the officers at the center of the inquiry.

Additional letters were sent to other police commanders and to several prosecutors. Letters of warning are usually issued when there is a significant chance that an indictment will follow.

Organized crime has rocketed to the top of the national agenda in recent days. In a speech May 17, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert called for a national war on organized crime, saying that it had “reached an unprecedented scale” and would be fought “with the same determination with which we fight terror.”

Senior police sources said they were preparing for the possibility that officers receiving letters of warning would be told “to take leave” until the investigation is complete. However, the two top Cabinet ministers responsible, Justice Minister Haim Ramon and Public Security Minister Avi Dichter, issued statements saying that no officials would be suspended while the probe is ongoing.

Ramon called on the commission chairman, retired judge Vardi Zeiler, to complete his work as quickly as possible, saying that the casting of suspicion on high-level police officials would make it difficult for police to maintain control of the law.

The Zeiler Commission was appointed in December 2005 to examine failures by police and prosecutors in pursuing the Parinyan brothers, Sharon and Oded, who operate a string of businesses in the northern Negev.

The main focus of the inquiry is the 1999 murder of a suspected mobster, Pinhas Buhbut, while he was in the hospital under custody of the Southern District Police, recovering from an earlier attack. The murder was allegedly committed by a police officer, Tzahi Ben-Or, on orders from the Parinyans. Ben-Or was arrested, but he was released to house arrest and fled the country. He was later killed in Cancun, Mexico.

The commission’s interim findings outline suspected police involvement in impeding the investigation. The findings reportedly link Yoram Levy, a senior officer in the Southern District, to the Parinyan family.

The commission is also examining the circumstances of Levy’s appointment to head the Southern District’s central investigative unit, even while there were suspicions that he had ties to the Parinyans. The officer responsible for Levy’s appointment was Karadi, who headed the Southern District before being named national commissioner in May 2004.

Karadi has said repeatedly that Levy was screened rigorously for the job and found flawless. The commission also heard testimony that police and Justice Ministry investigators were negligent and that they hid problematic polygraph findings from higher-ups considering Levy’s appointment.

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