Israel Police received materials from the FBI in 2013 about allegedly improper defense deals in which prospective police commissioner Maj. Gen (res.) Gal Hirsch’s security company may have been involved, but didn’t launch their own investigation into the incidents.
The information only came to light after the police passed the information onto Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein at the end of last week.
Weinstein is now set to examine the information, which relates to two separate defense deals that allegedly took place in Georgia and Kazakhstan, in 2008 and 2013, respectively.
Sources close to Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan say he continues to support Hirsch, but if the materials passed by Israel Police to Weinstein are as significant as they appear, he will ask former army commander Hirsch – his preferred candidate – to withdraw his nomination for the top police post.
The materials in possession of the police came from an undercover FBI investigation, and include documents and audiotapes regarding dozens of Israeli citizens and businessmen involved in arms deals throughout the world. The materials indicate their alleged involvement in bribery and tax evasion with regard to deals in countries in Africa, Europe and South America.
A large proportion of the deals conducted under FBI surveillance involved the former Georgian Defense Minister Davit Kezerashvili, who is sought by various international law enforcement agencies for questioning and who fled Georgia a few years ago. This is the same defense minister who was in office when the deals were made with companies owned by Hirsch.
Officials involved in the examination of the materials say Israel is a signatory to an international convention that obligates it to report illicit arms deals in which bribes exchange hands and to enforce the law.
However, Israel is one of the world’s largest arms exporters and plays its cards close to its chest when it comes to the arms trade. It provides the state with high income from taxes, and access to areas in which it is important for the state to be involved.
Some are now speculating that although the police held the possibly incriminating material and held a few meetings about them, no one was seemingly in any hurry to delve into the materials and discover what lay behind them.
From the moment Hirsch’s name came up as a candidate for police commissioner, though, Weinstein asked for any materials in the possession of the police and various other law enforcement agencies – at which point these materials from 2013 were finally presented to him.
Erdan told Hirsch on Saturday that he stood behind him. However, political figures close to the minister say he feels the battle over Hirsch’s appointment is harder than he thought it would be. They say Erdan now sees the appointment as an important test for his political future. Consequently, at this point he is still trying to protect Hirsch.
However, if in the coming days he realizes the damage continues to mount and could harm him for the rest of his term, he will try to extricate himself from the corner he has painted himself into, say sources.
“People close to him have already recommended that he stop talking negatively about the police and avoid accusing the police of trying to thwart the appointment, because he believes there might be changes that will lead in the end to the appointment of a commissioner from the inside,” political figures close to the minister said.
Meanwhile, Hirsch continues to project a sense of business as usual, and has dispatched members of his inner circle to fight for his good name and defend his appointment in the media. Hirsch reportedly believes the police are trying to thwart the appointment because they don’t want an “outsider” as commissioner.
Hirsch’s close associates said the materials presented by senior officers are an effort to thwart the appointment, otherwise they would have been produced while he was still a businessman.
His associates have quoted Hirsch as saying, “There are elements in the police in possession of sensitive materials, and who choose to hold them back for days to make political use of them, as in my case.”
Hirsch was also quoted as telling associates that he intends “to go all the way without blinking.”
According to sources in the justice and public security ministries, Hirsch’s appointment will not take effect on the initially planned date, because of the time it will take to study the materials presented to the attorney general about arms deals in which Hirsch’s company was allegedly involved.
It is still unclear what Hirsch will do about his security businesses while serving as police commissioner.
It would be standard practice to have them placed in other hands during his term in office, but the fact they deal with the arms trade and security consultation presents a sensitive challenge to Erdan in terms of potential conflict of interest.