Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s lawyer David Shimron is the unnamed attorney with close ties to the premier who was questioned under caution in recent days in connection with the so-called submarine affair, police said Wednesday.
Shimron is a suspect in “Case 3000,” in which authorities are investigating possible corruption and bribery involved in multi-billion shekel naval deals with German shipbuilding company ThyssenKrupp.
Shimon, who is currently under house arrest, was questioned for a third time on Wednesday.
Shimron’s name has been widely linked with the case for several months, but following his arrest his name was barred from publication. The gag order was lifted Wednesday morning.
On Tuesday police also placed the former commander of the Israeli Navy under house arrest, after questioning him for hours on suspicion of receiving bribes in the case. Maj. Gen. (res) Eliezer Marom will remain confined to his home until Thursday.
Marom and Shimron are among six suspects brought in for questioning as part of the ongoing investigation. They are suspected of attempting to sway deals in favor of ThyssenKrupp. Two other suspects are former deputy head of the National Security Council Avriel Bar-Yosef and ThyssenKrupp’s Israeli agent Miki Ganor.
The suspects were questioned under caution for more than 12 hours on suspicions of fraud, bribery, tax evasion and money laundering, the Israel Police and the Tax Authority said in a joint statement. “At the time of the events under question, some of the suspects were public servants and some worked in the private sector,” the statement said.
Netanyahu is not a suspect in the case. However, police are planning to summon him to testify on what he knows about the issue.
The Israeli-German deals came under intense scrutiny late last year, after it was revealed by Channel 10 news that Shimron had also served as ThyssenKrupp agent Ganor’s lawyer in the deal, where the german company was awarded the contracts for building Israel’s submarines and naval attack boats.
At the time Shimron denied any improprieties.
Shimron said he “did not discuss these matters with the prime minister,” and denied any effort to influence a decision over the deal.
“I have not spoken with any state officials about the privatization of the naval shipyard, nor I have not dealt with any state officials about vessels purchased by the State of Israel,” he said in a statement.
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit ordered the Israel Police to formally look into the submarine affair in November 2016, after accusations surfaced that Netanyahu may have been swayed to purchase vessels by Shimron.
Shimron is suspected of pushing for an NIS 6 billion ($1.5 billion) defense contract to purchase submarines for the Israeli Navy and other vessels for protecting the country’s maritime natural gas fields, an effort that could have netted him a hefty fee. Netanyahu’s own role in the purchase decision, including his insistence that Thyssenkrupp be exempted from the usual Defense Ministry tender process, raised concerns of a conflict of interest for Shimron. Part of the agreement being pushed by Shimron would also have seen ThyssenKrupp construct a lucrative shipyard in Israel, where the company would maintain the new vessels.
Netanyahu has denied any wrongdoing in the multi-billion-shekel deal for the submarines, saying that bolstering Israel’s long-term security needs was the “only consideration” behind the purchases. Netanyahu had pushed for Israel to buy the vessels, against the wishes of the Israel Defense Forces as well as then-defense minister Moshe Ya’alon.
While police have repeatedly said Netanyahu is not a suspect, top officals say he should be.
Ya’alon has repeatedly accused Netanyahu of improprieties in the submarine deal
“This was the straw that broke the camel’s back with Netanyahu,” Ya’alon said at an event in the southern city of Beersheba last month. “I had never suspected that he was corrupt. But then he went behind the back of the chief of staff and the head of the navy to sign the deal with (German Chancellor Angela) Merkel, when the whole professional consensus — from the navy to the Defense Ministry — was that we needed five submarines, not six.”
Ya’alon, who was ousted as defense minister last year, was known to have disagreed with Netanyahu over the submarine affair.
Ya’alon, who is trying to set up his own party to challenge Netanyahu, said that if it were not for the “submarine affair” he would still be defense minister.
It’s not the first time Ya’alon has alleged Netanyahu is corrupt.
Last month he threatened to “tell all” on Netanyahu’s alleged corruption if the prime minister is not indicted as part of three graft probes involving him or his associates.
“I knew about previous prime ministers that were corrupt for their own benefit, but it’s a completely different thing when a prime minister jeopardizes the interests of the country for his gain,” Ya’alon said during an interview broadcast on Channel 2 in May.
The new submarines were intended as replacements for the military’s older models.
In December, officers from the Lahav 433 unit entered the office of legal adviser Ahaz Ben-Ari at the Defense Ministry building in Tel Aviv and removed information from computers there. The data concerned the cancellation of an international tender to build four new warships to protect Israel’s offshore natural gas rigs in the Mediterranean Sea.
The contract was awarded instead to ThyssenKrupp. Under the 2015 deal, worth €430 million ($480 million), ThyssenKrupp is to supply Israel with four “Sa’ar 6 corvette” ships over a period of five years.
The purchase was opposed by parts of the defense establishment, including then-defense minister Moshe Ya’alon, who has since threatened to “tell all” on Netanyahu’s involvement if the prime minister is not indicted as part of the probe.
Raoul Wootliff contributed to this report.