Even a seasoned businessman is at a disadvantage.
An article from Israel’s Haaretz Newspaper on the techniques that Israel Securities Authority investigators use on suspected white collar criminals like Nochi Dankner, a wealthy Israeli businessman suspected of illegal stock manipulation:
Israeli investigators use every trick in the book
What tactics do Israel Securities Authority investigators use in their interrogations of people like Nochi Dankner, and how do they trip up even the most sophisticated suspects?
Nochi Dankner loves visiting new places. He’s traveled through far-flung parts of Tibet, northern India and Argentina, not to mention Las Vegas. But last week he found himself somewhere entirely new – the fifth floor of the Israel Securities Authority offices on Tel Aviv’s Montefiore Street.
Dankner had been brought from his Herzliya home to the offices of the ISA’s investigations department, located in a gray building overlooking Tel Aviv’s sooty rooftops. The investigators likely showed Dankner the coffee corner, and gave him a tour through the building to calm him down a bit. He may even have encountered two acquaintances who were also interrogated and then freed with restrictions – securities dealers Itay Strum and Adi Sheleg.
If so, such occurences would have been tricks played by the investigators.
A week ago Tuesday evening, while his lawyers were busy representing him in court, Dankner was being interrogated at the ISA offices. This was the first time the seasoned businessman found himself under investigation. Even if he knew what the investigators could and could not do, how to answer every question, and what his rights were, he still was at a disadvantage vis-a-vis his interrogators, who most likely used all their strategies on him.
What are these tricks and strategies, and how do they trip up even the most sophisticated suspects? The interrogators have degrees in law, economics or accounting, and some served as interrogators during their military service. Before starting the job, they go through long, exhaustive training. They conduct a limited number of investigations every year, so they have time to plan and execute them.
Investigations need the approval of ISA chairman Shmuel Hauser. Once an investigation is opened, it gets reviewed by internal experts in order to ensure the work is professional. By the time suspects know they are under investigation, the process is in its final stages. Most of the work is already done.
Cases draw on initial public offering documents, financial reports, stock quotes, discussion protocols and wiretaps when approved by the court. This process can take months. Once the investigation goes public, the investigators cross-check their findings with the suspect. Sources believe Dankner was wiretapped.
The actual interrogation is tightly scheduled. The investigators determine in advance when suspects and their questioners will take a coffee break, when suspects will run into acquaintances in the hallway, when they’ll eat, when they’ll smoke and when the questioning will become more aggressive.
"Nothing happens by chance in an ISA interrogation," says attorney Asaf Bram, an expert in white-collar crime. "The investigators are very skilled and have detailed knowledge of the material. The suspects have little experience with interrogations, and often it’s their first time. The authorities are very strong in this case, while the suspects, who are generally powerful people, are weak here. They’re confused and don’t know how strong the evidence is against them."
Bram lists some of the interrogation methods that can trip up even the most sophisticated suspects.
1. ‘Let’s go off the record’
A few hours into the interrogation, the investigator proposes a break, and stops typing or documenting the interrogation. The suspect can leave the room and freshen up, have a coffee alongside the investigator, go to the restroom, have a cigarette or eat something.
Over coffee, the investigator promises he’s not documenting the conversation; this is just a friendly chat. But what the suspect doesn’t know is that there’s no such thing as "off the record" during an investigation, says Bram. After the break, the investigator heads back to the room and writes down his recollection of their discussion, and that’s evidence for all intents and purposes.
"Someone experienced with police interrogations knows there’s no such thing as ‘off the record,’ but someone there for the first time doesn’t," says Bram. "Suspects are drawn into talking with their interrogators, who come off as nice, trustworthy people."
2. Chance encounters
The investigators bring all the suspects in at exactly the same time. Ostensibly by chance, they let the suspects run into each other during breaks and discuss their experiences. These conversations – in the hallway, the yard and even the bathroom – are being recorded. If the suspects say anything that advances the investigation, it’ll be used against them.
3. ‘Your friend just implicated you’
The interrogator tells the suspect what the suspect’s friend ostensibly is saying during a parallel questioning. The interrogator suddenly looks at his or her computer screen and throws the suspect a serious look, saying, "I was just told that the VP finance who’s being questioned in the other room said you ordered him to carry out the transaction."
It sounds believable, and someone undergoing a first questioning doesn’t know that an investigator will do anything to push suspects to implicate each other, says Bram.
"The goal is to turn the witnesses against each other," he says. "Sometimes the suspect will start to confess, telling himself, ‘If that’s what he’s saying about me, then I’ll implicate him or give a fuller account.’ "In retrospect, it turns out that in many cases the investigator was making things up. This is a tactic that works very well," says Bram.
4. Good interrogator, bad interrogator
ISA investigators are well dressed and polite. But that doesn’t mean they won’t lie through their teeth and promise suspects the world. Their clean-cut appearance can be deceiving.
An investigator might say to a suspect, "Admit you did it and I’ll make sure you face nothing more than a fine. Why would you want to wind up in court and be freed under restrictions or held in custody? It’ll wind up in the press and harm your reputation. Just confess now and save yourself the humiliation."
But an investigator has no power to deliver on these promises, says Bram. "The indictment depends on the prosecution," he says. This trick, too, catches inexperienced suspects.
"When the investigator is relaxed, smiling and writing down what you say, that’s a clear sign you’re giving him what he wants. That’s a bad sign for you," Bram says.
And then there’s the bad investigator. If the suspect doesn’t provide the goods, at some point the investigation turns aggressive, says Bram. The investigator’s manager takes over, and then the manager’s manager comes in. They threaten a media circus, a weeklong detention, and they do indeed have the authority to follow through with that.
Amid the threats, they say, "Just tell us what you were thinking when you thought this move might not be legit," says Bram. "Give us this, save yourself the detention, the years in court, the media embarrassment. We’ll end this with a fine."
5. ‘Say you meant it’
The ISA investigators know the laws, and they know what they need to prove in order to have a case. Part of that is intent. Their questions are intended to prove the suspect knew what he or she was doing, chose to look the other way, or was negligent.
For instance, in a case of alleged stock-price manipulation, such as the one Dankner is facing, the investigators need to prove the suspect chose to ignore the fact that he or she was potentially committing a crime, and that acquiring shares could be improper.
They ask pointed questions: "Maybe you thought that your purchase was improper – so what?" says Bram. "It’s enough to say ‘yes’ to that in order to prove their allegation that you knew what you were doing. That’s an admission that’s very hard to overturn."
6. The waiting game
It starts as a knock on the door at 5 or 6 A.M. It’s the investigators, and they have a search and arrest warrant. They take all the investigative material from the suspect’s home, and then move on to the suspect’s offices. They’re accompanied by computer technicians, who copy data from the company servers and home computers.
By 9:30 A.M., they get to the ISA offices with the suspect. And then, on the pretense of going over the investigative material, they let him or her sit. For hours.
"It’s a pretense, they already have all the material," says Bram. "The suspect sits alone for hours, and the investigators don’t tell him what they want. He knows other people are being called in as well, because he sees them passing in the hallway. They turn him into a bundle of nerves."
7. Delaying the lawyer
By law, before the investigation begins, interrogators must tell a suspect that he or she has the right to consult with an attorney. If they don’t, the investigation could be thrown out, and they don’t want that. A suspect who talks to a lawyer before the investigation begins will make things more difficult, though, so they try to delay the legal counsel to the extent the law permits.
"Often the investigators delay the attorney and continue with the questioning in the meanwhile," says Bram. "An experienced lawyer will enter the interrogation room immediately and halt the questioning – that’s his right. But not all suspects or attorneys know that. The suspect can demand that the questioning be delayed until he’s spoken with his attorney."
If you’re the one being interrogated, what technique might work in this situation? Demand a lawyer and say absolutely nothing.
Israeli investigators use every trick in the book. HAARETZ>>