Three veteran drivers in the prime minister’s motorcade who were recently fired for also ferrying former premiers Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid are set to serve as prosecution witnesses in the ongoing trial against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, according to a Sunday report.
Channel 13 news reported that the three drivers, who had been employed by the Prime Minister’s Office for roughly 30 years and were let go by Netanyahu in order to ensure the loyalty of those working for him, were all slated to soon give testimony before the Jerusalem District Court.
Netanyahu is on trial in three corruption cases. He faces charges of fraud and breach of trust in Case 1000 and in Case 2000, and charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust in Case 4000. He denies wrongdoing and claims the charges were fabricated in an attempted political coup led by the police, the state prosecution, the media and leftist rivals.
The so-called Case 1000 revolves around accusations that Netanyahu received expensive gifts from businessmen in exchange for benefits he provided to them.
According to the report, the three drivers who were fired had contradicted Netanyahu’s testimony to police about the origin of certain cigars.
During his investigation as part of Case 1000, Netanyahu told police that cigars that were believed to have been purchased for him by Hollywood movie mogul Arnon Milchan were actually purchased by himself through his drivers, according to Channel 13.
Due to Netanyahu’s refusal to disclose the names of the drivers he was referring to, the report said police had summoned several drivers who had worked with him over the years.
The three who were fired had contradicted Netanyahu’s version, denying during their investigation that they had ever purchased big quantities of cigars for the premier, the report said, which is why they were called on by the prosecution to testify in Netanyahu’s ongoing trial in three weeks time.
According to Haaretz, they are part of a group of seven drivers who worked with Netanyahu and have become witnesses for the prosecution in Netanyahu’s trial.
Responding to the report, Netanyahu’s office denied that firing the drivers had anything to do with the prime minister’s trial.
“The fact that the drivers who were moved from their position serve as witnesses for the prosecution did not play a part in their removal. Other drivers who also serve as witnesses for the prosecution have remained in their current roles. The position of the prime minister’s driver requires trust. It only makes sense that those who sit in the same vehicle with him be loyal to him,” read a statement issued by the Prime Minister’s Office.
The statement added that the three drivers would be moved to work under President Isaac Herzog’s motorcade instead.
The drivers in question had worked for former prime ministers Yitzhak Shamir, Shimon Peres, Yitzhak Rabin, Ehud Barak, Ariel Sharon and even Netanyahu himself. It was their most recent tenure under prime ministers Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid that appeared to have stained their records in Netanyahu’s eyes.
Talking to Channel 12, the drivers said they “were paying a heavy price for driving Bennett and Lapid.”
According to their lawyer Sigal Pail, the explanation by Netanyahu’s office does not explain why the three drivers were removed from their position without a hearing. She told the network they intend to fight the decision in court.
The news of their dismissal had come after Channel 12 news reported that Netanyahu was seeking to fire all public servants appointed to significant posts by the previous government, in order to ensure that only his loyalists remain.