Likud MK seeks to bring budget for police investigations under Knesset oversight

In a move to increase politicians’ oversight of police, a lawmaker in the ruling Likud party is seeking legislation that would bring internal police budgeting under Knesset supervision, Hadashot TV news reported Thursday.

Such a bill, if signed into law, would allow government members to control the funds provided to the Investigations Department — which is currently investigating the prime minister and other leading politicians on suspicions of corruption.

Presently the legislature approves the police force’s yearly budget of around NIS 11 billion, but the internal allocation of funds is up to police leadership.

MK Yoav Kisch’s proposed bill would necessitate any internal budgetary allocations of over NIS 20 million be approved by a special Knesset committee comprised of members of the Knesset’s Interior Committee — headed by Kisch — and Finance Committee.

A similar bill was proposed last year by Kisch’s predecessor in the Interior Committee, MK David Amsalem. Amsalem, now coalition chairman, sought to bring the budget under the supervision of the Public Security Ministry, in an effort eventually aborted.

Police chief Roni Alsheich said at the time the bill would endanger the ability of democracy’s gatekeepers “to maintain the rule of law” and vowed to oppose it.

Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich speaks at a press conference at police headquarters in Jerusalem, April 17, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90)

Police have recommended indicting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in two corruption probes; on suspicions that he received illicit gifts from billionaires in return for benefits, and that he struck a deal for positive coverage with the publisher of the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper, in exchange for weakening his media rivals. Prosecutors are currently weighing whether to follow through on police recommendations.

A third probe still underway involves suspicions that Netanyahu advanced regulatory decisions benefiting the controlling shareholder of Israel’s largest telecommunications firm in exchange for flattering coverage of the Netanyahu family in the leading Walla news site.

He has denied wrongdoing in all cases.

Corruption investigations are also ongoing into former coalition whip David Bitan and Interior Minister Aryeh Deri (Shas). Welfare Minister Haim Katz is set to be indicted, pending a hearing, for bribery, fraud, and breach of trust.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit has criticized lawmakers’ efforts to curb the investigatory powers of police.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit speaks at a conference at the National Library in Jerusalem on June 6, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

As the cases involving Netanyahu have progressed, the prime minister and his political allies have increasingly struck out at law enforcement, branding the investigations a politically motivated “witch hunt” meant to remove him from power.

In May, Likud MK Miki Zohar proposed prohibiting the media from reporting on the opening of police investigations into public figures without receiving special permission. He claimed the legislation was aimed at protecting MKs critical of the police from exposure to possible police revenge.

In December the Knesset passed legislation preventing police, upon wrapping up their investigations and handing over the files to prosecutors, from commenting on whether there is an evidentiary basis for indictment. It will apply only to probes of public officials and other high-profile cases and does not apply to the already-in-progress Netanyahu probes.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem on June 24, 2018. (AFP Photo/Gali Tibbon)

Critics say the law is designed to protect corrupt politicians from public backlash, muzzle investigators, and curb police authority. Proponents, meanwhile, argue that the police recommendations, once leaked to the media, cause irreparable damage to the suspects’ reputations and only rarely result in an indictment by prosecutors.

Another proposal, which has become known as the French law, would give serving prime ministers immunity from corruption investigations.

And a third, put forward by coalition head David Amsalem last year, seeks to criminalize leaking of sensitive investigative material.

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