Setting the stage for a potential clash with the Prime Minister’s Office, Deputy Attorney General Gil Limon on Wednesday instructed it to reinstate three drivers who were fired shortly after Benjamin Netanyahu returned to office, purportedly since they were set to serve as prosecution witnesses at Netanyahu’s trial.
Channel 13 news reported on Sunday that the drivers, who had been employed by the PMO 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 testify soon at the Jerusalem District Court. The PMO has denied any link between their firing and the trial.
Following an investigation into the matter, Limon wrote to PMO Director General Yossi Shelley that the decision to fire the drivers was in violation of a conflict-of-interest agreement signed by the premier’s chief of staff, Tzachi Braverman, which barred him from making decisions regarding witnesses in Netanyahu’s trial, according to several media reports citing a copy of the letter.
Limon explained that “caution and special care” must be taken when making administrative decisions involving employees who are witnesses in the trial, to prevent “even the appearance” of interference in the cases.
In a statement, the PMO said that the names of witnesses were not included in the conflict-of-interest agreements.
“Furthermore, the legal office, whose role is to consult with office employees so they do not fail in their duties, did not warn in real-time of any problem and did not provide a list of witnesses to the chief of staff,” the statement added.
The statement also noted that the workers were not fired. Earlier this week it was announced that the drivers would be reassigned to President Isaac Herzog’s motorcade.
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.
According to Channel 13, 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, the TV network reported.
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 contradicted Netanyahu’s version, denying during their investigation that they had ever purchased large 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.
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.