Photo Credit: Marc Israel Sellem/POOL
Liat Ben-Ari, prosecutor in the trial against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, July 19, 2020.

In July, attorney Kinneret Barashi exposed construction violations that were allegedly committed in a building belonging to the Deputy State Attorney and Chief Prosecutor in the trial of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Attorney Liat Ben-Ari. This was first reported by Israel Hayom.

Barashi revealed that municipal inspector Ziv Miller conducted an audit on February 24, 2020, and found that work had been carried out on the property, located in the city of Rosh HaAyin, to divide the apartment in two, apparently in order to increase rent revenue, and the work was performed without a permit.

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Miller wrote: “When I went back to the municipality to check if these things were done according to a permit, I discovered that there was no permit for these actions.”

B’Tsalmo, a rightwing group founded in 2012 whose purpose is to “end the preferential treatment of Arabs by the High Court of Justice and to promote the freedom of information to encourage reliable police reports on terrorist attacks,” sent a request to Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit to launch a criminal investigation against Ben-Ari.

The B’Tsalmo petition stated, among other things, that a dark cloud hangs over Ben-Ari’s head, as “it is alleged that construction violations were committed on her property or that construction violations are registered in her name.” The group noted that several senior government ministers, including Homeland Security Minister Amir Ohana and Transportation Minister Miri Regev, demanded Ben-Ari’s resignation following the allegations.

B’Tsalmo complained about Ben-Ari’s refusal to respond to the allegations against her, and stated: “It is inconceivable for a civil servant to refuse to respond to these suspicions.”

B’Tsalmo CEO Shai Glick said that “it is inconceivable that a prosecutor in the prime minister’s trial, the most sensitive case in the country, would be under a heavy cloud over alleged suspicions of construction violations without any criminal or financial sanctions.”

Last Thursday, the State Attorney’s Office, in an unusual and possibly unprecedented manner, intervened in the case of the alleged construction violations by Deputy State Attorney Liat Ben-Ari, the chief prosecutor in the Netanyahu trial. One Bat Or Kahanovitz, a senior employee of the Office of the Attorney General, sent an urgent letter to Rosh HaAyin Mayor Shalom Ben Moshe and to the chairman of the Planning and Construction Subcommittee, Yishai Edward, warning them not to interfere in Ben Ari’s construction violations case.

Since construction violations are a criminal offense, the decision whether to pursue an indictment is in the hands of the municipality’s legal consultant who is subordinate to the State Attorney’s Office and to the Attorney General. In other words, Kahanovitz’s letter, if it says what was reported it said, is one gargantuan case of conflict of interests, as an organ of the Justice Ministry intervenes in order to ostensibly block the possibility of filing an indictment in the construction violation case against one of its senior employees who handles criminal indictments.

In response to these revelations, Ben-Ari claimed that she was not aware of the splitting of the property, and that it was part of her husband’s business, with the details of which she was unfamiliar. According to Israel Hayom, Ben-Ari’s claim is puzzling, since the project in question was marketed as part of a construction association, one of whose basic conditions was that the purchasers must be residents of Rosh HaAyin. Liat Ben-Ari and her husband Aviv Shviki were not residents of Rosh HaAyin and did not intend to live in the city, so they allegedly joined the construction association in violation of the association’s bylaws.

It now turns out that this construction project was allegedly managed by Aviv’s brother, an entrepreneur named Hadar Shviki. On June 17, 2015, Shirley Elon-Shviki, Hadar’s wife and Liat Ben-Ari’s sister-in-law, posted on Facebook post a promotion of a one-time opportunity to join the construction project in Rosh HaAyin, which was described as “Hadar’s project.”

The prominent presence and central activity of the Shviki family, Ben-Ari’s in-laws, in the management and marketing of the project in question raises a big question mark over Ben-Ari’s claim that she was not aware of the matter, and that these were merely her husband’s business investments.

The Justice Ministry, now under Blue&White management, responded: “Recently, there have been increasing attempts to discredit Ben-Ari in online and media publications, to intrude on her privacy and to delve into the affairs of her family members to damage her reputation. The motives for this are clear to all, and the timing is not coincidental. We have no intention of lending a hand to these attempts.”

Amir Ohana / Courtesy of the Knesset

On Monday morning, Homeland security Minister and former Justice Minister Amir Ohana posted on his Facebook page:

“All the details about Minister Ohana’s construction violations, watch the news edition.

You know that’s how the TV news would have opened, in addition to the top headlines in the newspapers or on major websites – had I been suspected of this.

But it’s not about me.

I can’t recall how many of the thousand pardon applications submitted to the Justice Minister, who signs recommendations to the President, were for construction violations – but they were many.

I particularly remember the request of a very elderly moshavnik, salt of the earth, who fought in Israel’s wars, to delete from the criminal registry the construction violations against him. A contributing citizen to the state, and a law-abiding man, the stain in the form of the criminal conviction for a construction violation did not stop bothering him.

It didn’t help – the prosecution was against him. It was one of the cases in which I recommended to the President to pardon a man contrary to the position of the State Attorney’s Office. This didn’t help him either – the president sided with the prosecution and did not grant him a pardon.

On the other hand, when a construction violation was allegedly committed by a senior prosecutor, the same senior who plunged an entire country into cases with baseless allegations [against PM Netanyahu] and then went on a safari abroad during the “hearing” that was granted the accused “with an open heart and a willing mind” – on this the mainstream media are yawning, hoping for the story to die quietly.

If this is not enough, then the State Attorney’s Office and the Attorney General take care be her spokespersons, as if they were her own private lawyers and not state representatives. Moreover, they present her as a victim – while sending an unparalleled, intimidating letter the likes of which has not been seen, to warn anyone who asks that she be treated as a common citizen.

Every time you think that the institutional corruption and the corrupt organizational culture of the State Attorney’s Office has reached the bottom – you discover an entire dungeon further down, built without a construction permit.”

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