Center-left politicians on Thursday voiced shock over the charges lodged against former defense officials and associates of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in what has been described by some as the biggest graft scandal in Israel’s history, calling for further investigation into the scope of the involvement of the premier himself.
Case 3000, as it is known, centers on a possible conflict of interest surrounding the multi-billion-shekel procurement of military boats and submarines from German shipbuilder Thyssenkrupp in and around 2016. Prosecutors allege Israeli officials were bribed to push a massive deal for the vessels worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
The high-profile investigation ensnared several close associates of Netanyahu, but the premier himself was not a suspect.
Netanyahu, who is touring Lisbon ahead of a meeting with the Portuguese prime minister, did not immediately comment on the case. He himself has been charged with fraud and breach of trust in three other graft cases, as well as bribery in one of them. He denies wrongdoing.
Responding to the charges, Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz, a former IDF chief of staff and currently Netanyahu’s biggest political rival, called it “another sad day.”
“As someone who served in the defense establishment for 38 years, I never thought I would hear the words corruption and Israeli defense uttered in the same breath,” he said.
Also responding to the charges was Blue and White’s No. 3, Moshe Ya’alon, another former military chief who was defense minister during part of the time that the suspected activity was taking place.
Ya’alon repeated his mantra that the case was the worst defense scandal in the country’s history and vowed that a potential government led by Blue and White would set up an investigatory panel to look into parts of the case connected to Netanyahu and not yet explored, like the approval of submarine sales to Egypt behind the defense minister’s back.
“Netanyahu’s closest associates have been charged with serious offenses, and he didn’t know?” he puzzled.
Labor-Gesher MK Itzik Shmuli called the case “shocking” and said that “the fact that Netanyahu’s inner circle was also part of it casts a long shadow over his functioning as prime minister.”
He claimed the case had “more layers” and open questions that would have to be answered by forming a committee of inquiry.
According to a Thursday statement from the Justice Ministry, Miki Ganor, Thyssenkrupp’s former agent in Israel, will be charged with bribery, money laundering and tax offenses, as will Eliezer Marom, a former head of the Israeli Navy.
Marom’s attorney Zion Amir said he and his client were “shocked” to see the draft indictment, saying it was “completely baseless and contradicts the evidence gathered by the police.” He added that he would “utterly undermine” the allegations if he decides to attend a pre-indictment hearing.
The ministry also announced charges of bribery, breach of trust and money laundering against David Sharan, a former aide to Netanyahu and to Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz, as well as charges of bribery, money laundering, fraud, breach of trust and tax offenses against former minister Eliezer Sandberg.
Rami Taib, a former political adviser to Steinitz, was to be charged with brokering bribery and Yitzhak Lieber, a media consultant with ties to Sharan, was to be charged with money laundering and assisting tax offenses.
David Shimron, Netanyahu’s cousin and former personal lawyer, will be charged with money laundering.
Shimron dismissed the pending charge against him as nothing a but a flub.
“I got the charge sheet and looked at it. There’s no submarines. There’s no bribery. There’s no fraud. So what is there? A technical violation that has been described in a pompous manner with considerable error,” he said.
He predicted the matter would be dropped once he gets a hearing ahead of the filing of formal charges.
Ganor and Sharan also face charges of violating a law regulating political parties.
All the charges were pending a pre-indictment hearing.
The statement did not specify whether Avriel Bar-Yosef, former deputy national security adviser, would be charged in the case, but described allegedly corrupt ties he had with Ganor.
According to prosecutors, Bar-Yosef first approached Ganor about becoming Thyssenkrupp’s representative in Israel because he “wanted to derive financial benefit.” He then allegedly enlisted Marom, who was head of the navy at the time, to help lobby for Ganor’s appointment. Ganor later replaced Yishaya Barkat as Thyssenkrupp’s representative in the country.
“During the meetings Ganor, Marom and Bar-Yosef held from the start of 2009… an understanding, agreement and expectation was formulated between them by which Marom and Bar-Yosef would receive compensation from Ganor for their work in favor of his appointment,” the statement said.
Ganor allegedly went on to pay two hundred thousand shekels in total, with prosecutors accusing Bar-Yosef of working to advance naval purchases while serving as deputy national security adviser.
The Justice Ministry statement also detailed allegedly corrupt ties Ganor had with Sharan and Sandberg, whom he is accused of bribing in exchange for advancing his interests, as well as the suspected money laundering by Shimron on Ganor’s behalf.
Ganor initially signed a deal to become the prosecution’s key witness in the case in which he reportedly admitted to bribing a string of senior officials in order to help secure contracts for the company with Israel’s Defense Ministry.
But in a shock move in March, he told police that he wished to alter key parts of the testimony he gave in the case. Ganor claimed that while he stood behind the facts he had given to police, the payments he gave were consulting fees and not bribes. He said police had pressured him to describe the circumstances so that they shored up the claim he had acted to bribe senior state employees.
That move reportedly came after Ganor discovered that signing a state witness agreement had put his name on an international banking blacklist and blocked his access to tens of millions of shekels he held in banks in Cyprus and Austria.
In May, state prosecutors informed Ganor that his deal with the state had been canceled, stripping him of his immunity from prosecution in the case. He had been set to plead guilty only to tax evasion charges and serve a year-long prison sentence as part of the arrangement.