Former AG files slander suit against TV station


MR Ronnie Bar-On, the former attorney-general at the heart of a major Israeli political scandal, yesterday filed a formal slander complaint against Israel Television, the station that alleges he got the job illegally.

Mr Bar-On was called for questioning in Tel Aviv by a special Israeli police unit investigating the bizarre circumstances surrounding his short-lived appointment as attorney-general earlier this month.

The Jerusalem criminal lawyer, an activist in the Likud party of the Prime Minister, Mr Benjamin Netanyahu, resigned before ever setting foot in his Justice Ministry office. Israel Television claims that he was only appointed to the job as the result of an illegal deal, under which he was to arrange a plea bargain for Mr Aryeh Deri, a Knesset member and political ally of Mr Netanyahu's who is currently on trial for corruption. Along with the other alleged protagonists in the affair, Mr Bar-On has vehemently denied the charges.

Yesterday, after answering police questions, he went on to the offensive, lodging a criminal complaint of slander against Mr Mordechai Kirshenbaum, the director-general of the Israel Broadcasting Authority responsible for Israel TV. In addition to pursuing its investigation of the TV allegations, the police unit must now follow-up Mr Bar-On's complaint.

The TV reports state that Mr Netanyahu is not believed to have been party to the alleged deal, and the Prime Minister said yesterday he was strongly encouraging the police investigation which he hoped would go "straight to the truth".

Having initially appeared extremely discomfited by the TV charges, Mr Netanyahu has seemed markedly more relaxed in recent days, and sources close to him have been energetically high-lighting the TV assessment that he was not personally involved in the Bar-On affair.

Indeed, Mr Netanyahu has been turning his attention instead to more familiar territory, preparing the ground for a resumption of peace talks with Syria. He has appointed his Defence Minister, Mr Yitzhak Mordechai, to take charge of such negotiations, which are privately expected to resume in the spring.

The official platform of his governing coalition explicitly rules out ceding the Golan Heights in exchange for a peace treaty with Syria - rendering an accord unlikely. However, several members of the Likud yesterday expressed support for a land-for-peace deal on the Golan.