Corruption and organised crime at the heart of the Israeli state

Israeli whistleblower Rafi Rotem in handcuffs
By Joseph Zernik

When someone blows the whistle on mass corruption in government, you would expect them to receive the status of whistleblower and be given the necessary protection.

Not so with Rafi Rotem, who used to be head of the Tax Authority Senior Intelligence Office in Israel.

Rotem exposed organised crime in the Tax Authority starting in 2002, following a series of political appointments at the top of the authority, including huge tax breaks to tycoons and organised crime-related businesses, sex bribes to a tax investigator and the murder of a “source”.

Over the past 14 years Rotem has been subjected to harassment, intimidation and revenge by the authorities. He lost his job, his home, his possessions, and remains homeless to this day. Will he succeed to get the senior officials who are still not being investigated to face justice?

In this interview Rotem talks about why he is convinced that he will end up in prison. He fears that, after almost 14 years, they want him killed.

In a 2013 interview, former Israeli Attorney-General Manny Mezouz said the Tax Authority scandal, exposed by Rafi Rotem, was “…the closest to organised crime” and that “the punishment of those involved did not reflect the severity of their crimes and the entire affair…”

Judicial complicity

The main culprit is Judge Vardah Samet of the Tel Aviv Labour Court.

Up to 2003, Rotem regularly received excellent appraisals. But in retaliation for his whistleblowing, he was framed in court as an employee who engaged in intimidation and physical threats against colleagues. Although Israeli law requires that negative comments or complaints placed in an employee’s personnel file include the employee’s response, no such responses by Rotem were found in documents that were filed by the state prosecution service in the Tel Aviv Labour Court. Moreover, these records were admitted by Judge Vardah Samet with no affidavits, and the authors of the records failed to appear in court and never took the stand for cross interrogation.

Likewise, the National Labour Court rejected Rotem’s appeal, and failed to address in its ruling the obvious violations of court procedures by Judge Samet, who admitted inadmissible evidence.

In the Supreme Court of Israel, a panel of three judges – Edmond Levy, Edna Arbel and Uzi Vogelman – sitting as the High Court of Justice, summarily denied a petition by Rotem in 2008. The court again ruled that Rotem was not a whistleblower, and that his case was only a case of soured relations in the workplace.

The petition had been signed by 14 employees of the Tax Authority.

It should be noted that the ruling of the High Court of Justice on Rotem’s petition was served unsigned by the judges, uncertified by the clerk of the court, with no accompanying letter by the Office of the Clerk (authentication), and bearing the disclaimer “subject to editing and phrasing changes”. Such paper cannot be deemed a valid court judgment by any reasonable person. Rotem’s request for a signed and certified copy of this decision, addressed to Supreme Court Presiding Judge Asher Grunis, remains unanswered.

Rotem’s case demonstrates how obstructive the High Court of Justice, a national tribunal for the protection of rights pursuant to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, has become over the past decade.

Police misconduct

Rotem’s case also raises concerns regarding the conduct of the Israeli police. Prior to his whistleblowing, Rotem received a number of appreciation and commendation letters from the Israeli police for his help as Tax-Authority intelligence officer in solving various crimes, unrelated to tax issues, most notably the murder of a judge. But after his whistleblowing, the police detained Rotem numerous times on false charges, and he was severely beaten by the police who also treated him as a suspect in various unrelated crimes.

The case as a whole raises serious concerns regarding systemic corruption in the Israeli government in general and the Israeli justice system in particular. Moreover, the case illustrates the close relationship between the government and organised crime in Israel.

Awaiting justice

These are some of the key issues on which Rotem and over a dozen of his colleagues signed a letter requesting an investigation:

  1. Obstruction by the office Binyamin Netanyahu (then finance minister) of a tax investigation – the case of a senior Likud party person who was caught smuggling a container of electronic goods.
  2. Obstruction of tax investigation by senior Tax Authority officers – the case of tycoon Nohi Dankner, involving hundreds of millions of shekels
  3. Obstruction of a tax investigation by senior Tax Authority officers – the case of Reuven Gavrieli, a well known crime figure, involving tens of millions of shekels.
  4. Obstruction of a tax investigation by senior Tax Authority officers – the case of Gibor-Sport Corporation involving senior Likud party figures.
  5. Disappearance of a major tax investigation file concerning Deckel-Goldmine from a high security office in the Tax Investigations Department; refusal of the security officer of the department to investigate the case; and refusal of senior officers to restore the file from the parts that were still preserved in various computer systems.
  6. Abandonment of an intelligence source, which led to his murder, and later and attempt by the Israeli police to cover up the case by presenting it as a suicide.
  7. Extortion of sexual bribes by a tax investigator from a tax fraud suspect (recorded on video).
  8. Intimidation and retaliation against whistleblower Rafi Rotem, a victim, witness and informant.
  9. Obstruction of justice in the case of Rotem v Ministry of Finance and the Tax Authority in the Tel-Aviv Regional Labour Court, by Judge Varda Samet. This concerned the retaliatory actions against whistleblower Rotem and his eventual dismissal. Samet’s husband represented at that time Gibor-Sport Corporation, and their daughter works for the same law firm as well. The obstruction of a tax investigation against Gibor-Sport Corporation was a key issue in the litigation. But Judge Samet never disclosed her conflict of interests and never recused herself from the case. In the litigation of this case Judge Samet admitted inadmissible evidence, likely forged documents, while failing to allow the appearance of the corresponding witnesses. In this case, only an unsigned “judgment” record was discovered. Another copy of this “judgment”, also unsigned and uncertified, was unlawfully admitted as evidence in the case of Rotem v Baram.
  10. Obstruction of justice in the case of Rotem v Baram and State of Israel in the Tel Aviv Magistrates Court by then Magistrate Judge Shohana Almagor (now a district judge). This was a libel case. Eyal Baram, a supervisor in the Tax Authority, described Rotem as a “crime figure” and “psychiatric case”, in revenge for his whistleblowing, The facts were affirmed in court, but the purported “judgment” by Judge Almagor denied the claims. Inspection of the court file revealed numerous unsigned court orders and protocols by Judge Almagor, which were never duly registered and never duly served.
  11. Obstruction of justice in the case of Rotem v Samet in the High Court of Justice. The cause of the petition was the conduct of Judge Samet in the case of Rotem v Ministry of Finance. In this court case no lawful petition process was conducted. The respondents never filed a response. But Justices Edmond Levy, Edna Arbel and Uzi Fogelman issued a “judgment”, which reiterates the ruling of Judge Varda Samet in the Labour Court, that Rotem was no whistleblower and that the entire case originated in “muddied labour relationships”. The electronic records in this case show at once that the case was closed following a judgment given during a sitting in the Supreme Court, and that no actual hearing was conducted. The “judgment” in this case was never duly served, and in response to repeated requests by Rotem to Presiding Justice Asher Grunis to provide a signed and certified copy of the “judgment”, only perverted court records were provided.
  12. Obstruction of justice in the case of State of Israel v Rafi Rotem in the Tel Aviv Magistrates Court. The case has been ongoing in that court for the past year and a half. It is about “insulting a public servant” and “abuse of electronic communication lines”.

The indictment, prosecuted by the Tel Aviv police, is contrary to common sense and the fundamentals of justice. Policemen and law-enforcement officers abused Rotem for years after his whistleblowing. None of the policemen who abused and beat Rotem was ever held accountable, but Rotem is now prosecuted for insulting them! In this court case, the evidence shows obstruction of justice through collusion between Judge Yael Pradelsky, the prosecution authorities and the Public Defender’s Office (including pro-tem Tel-Aviv District Public Defender Elkana Leist and National Public Defender Yoav Sapir). The evidence of obstruction of justice in this case was filed with Chief Justice Asher Grunis and Presiding Judge of the Tel-Aviv Magistrates Court Hadassi-Herman, but both refused to initiate corrective actions. The responses of Chief Justice Grunis to such notices defy common sense and the fundamentals of justice.

13. The refusal of the former and the current state ombudsman, Yosef Shapira, to duly register and examine complaints by Rotem, and also his refusal to provide him with due protection as a whistleblower. Such conduct by ombudsman Shapira also included the issuance of perverted records by his office.

Therefore, the case documents what is termed in criminology as “organised state crime”.

If those under suspicion are ever brought to justice, it is likely the whole government could fall in Israel.

Rotem has dedicated his life to the cause of cleaning up not only the Tax Authority, but all the officials involved in the deceptions. Yet little is known about him outside the country. Inside, he is considered by many as a hero.

For further details on this story, click here.

*Joseph Zernik is a scientist who researches and writes about information technology fraud in the court system. To learn more about him, click here.

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