Police seek indictment against former Netanyahu chief of staff
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Police seek indictment against former Netanyahu chief of staff

Ari Harow, PM’s longtime aide, faces charges of bribery and breach of trust for allegedly retaining control of his company despite conflict of interest

Raoul Wootliff is the The Times of Israel's political correspondent.

Ari Harow, former chief of staff of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at a Likud meeting in the Israeli parliament, November 24, 2014. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Ari Harow, former chief of staff of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at a Likud meeting in the Israeli parliament, November 24, 2014. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Police investigators will recommend bribery and breach of trust charges against a former chief of staff and aide to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The California-born Ari Harow has been under investigation since mid-2015 on suspicion of using his ties to Netanyahu to advance his private business interests.

According to a police statement Thursday, Harow signed a conflict of interest agreement before being appointed chief of staff under Netanyahu in 2014. In the agreement, which is required of all high-level public service appointees, he agreed to sell his political consulting company, 3H, in order to avoid conflicts of interest in his new position.

According to police, the nearly two-year investigation concluded with the finding that “the sale of the company was for the sake of appearances only and based on a false impression, while in practice he retained control over it, benefited from its profits and advanced its interests in the framework of his public position.”

The police recommendation listed four charges — bribery, breach of trust, fraud and money laundering.

The investigation against Harow began as an undercover operation in mid-2015. It went public at the end of 2015, and Harow was formally detained in July 2016.

Harow did not return phone calls seeking comment on Thursday. A spokesperson for 3H would only say the company would not be commenting on the investigation.

A statement from Harow’s lawyer, cited by Channel 2 TV, said that Harow “believes and hopes that the State Attorney’s Office will reach the conclusion that his actions did not constitute criminal activities.”

Police also recommended an indictment for fraud and money laundering against prominent attorney Harel Arnon, who handled the sale of 3H. Arnon is currently slated to represent the state in the High Court of Justice in the coming months, when it hears appeals against a controversial law legalizing settlements built on private Palestinian land.

An attorney for Arnon said, “We are convinced the State Attorney’s Office will reach the conclusion that Dr. Arnon’s [behavior] was unimpeachable, and there is no cause for an indictment. The fact that an investigation that has lasted a year and a half was concluded by the police exactly one day after Dr. Arnon was appointed to represent the government in the High Court [appeal] over the Regulation Law makes one wonder.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) and Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Noni Mozes (composite image: Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) and Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Arnon “Noni” Mozes (composite image: Flash90)

The investigation has sparked at least one corruption investigation of Netanyahu himself, after investigators uncovered recordings on Harow’s computer of meetings between Netanyahu and Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Arnon “Noni” Mozes in late 2014 and early 2015. In the recording, the two seemed to discuss an illicit quid pro quo deal that would have seen the prime minister hobble a rival daily to Yedioth, the Sheldon Adelson-backed Israel Hayom, in return for more favorable coverage from Yedioth.

That investigation, dubbed “Case 2000” by police, is ongoing.

Thursday’s police statement said that detectives had concluded their investigation of Harow, and the case is slated to be handed to the financial crimes division of the State Prosecutor’s Office, which will make the final decision over whether to file indictments against Harow and Arnon.

Harow first worked for Netanyahu as foreign affairs adviser during his stint as leader of the opposition. He then spearheaded the 2009 election campaign that catapulted Netanyahu back into office. Following the election, he served as the prime minister’s bureau chief until 2010, managing Netanyahu’s schedule and advising him on a range of issues.

Harow took a break from politics in 2010, when he founded 3H Global, an Israel-based consulting firm. He later returned as chief of staff of the Prime Minister’s Office in 2014, serving there for a year before leaving to run the 2015 election campaign for Netanyahu’s Likud party.

Harow immigrated to Israel with his family when he was 12 years old, later serving in the IDF’s Golani Brigade.

Separately on Thursday, prosecutors reached a plea deal with another former senior adviser to Netanyahu. Perach Lerner, the prime minister’s liaison to the Knesset until last year, admitted to fraud and breach of trust allegations as part of a deal that will see prosecutors closing a criminal probe against her.

Lerner will, however, face disciplinary proceedings in the civil service commission, and will have to admit a string of disciplinary offenses arising from what police say amounted to using her position to advance the interests of several clients connected to the public relations company of her husband, Avi Lerner.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu flanked by former chief of staff Ari Harow (left) and former parliamentary adviser Perach Lerner, as he arrives at a Likud faction meeting in the Israeli parliament, November 24, 2014. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu flanked by former chief of staff Ari Harow (left) and former parliamentary adviser Perach Lerner, as he arrives at a Likud faction meeting in the Knesset, November 24, 2014. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Described last year as one of the “most powerful women in the Likud” by the financial daily The Marker, Lerner, according to a Thursday statement from the Justice Ministry, will have to resign from public service for five years and pay a fine of NIS 20,000 ($5,400).

Should she break the conditions of the deal, she will be charged and tried in a criminal court.

According to the Justice Ministry, Lerner advised Netanyahu on legislation and Knesset politics from 2009 to 2015 and was a “central and influential” figure in the Prime Minister’s Office whose opinions carried “significant weight.”

Her husband’s company, Lernercom, works in political consultancy, specializing in the nationalist-religious community.

Under the terms of the deal, Lerner admitted that several of her husband’s clients employed him in the knowledge that she worked in the Prime Minister’s Office and was close to Netanyahu, believing she represented “added value” and would help them. Lerner cited two cases in which her husband’s clients used her to grease wheels and cut corners.

Upon starting to work in the Prime Minister’s Office, Lerner signed a statement saying she had no conflict of interest and that she would report any change in that situation, according to the Justice Ministry.

But not only did she not report the connection to her husband’s business clients, when suspicions arose and the legal adviser to the Prime Minister’s Office asked several times for a list of her husband’s clients, she delayed for three months until she was confronted with some of the clients and admitted the conflict of interest.

A decision has not yet been made regarding steps against Lerner’s husband, who is still under investigation.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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