Former prime minister Ehud Barak called an investigation into suspected corruption in billion dollar deals to purchase naval vessels one of the most serious graft cases in Israel’s history, and “borderline treason.”
Speaking Saturday at a cultural event in Nes Tziona, just days after police recommended the indictment of a number of suspects in the probe, Barak also called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to resign in light of criminal allegations against a number of his close associates.
The investigation, which is known as Case 3000, is considered to be one of the greatest corruption schemes in the country’s history and centers on the $2 billion purchase of submarines from a German shipbuilder.
“The submarine affair is one of the gravest in the history of the state,” said Barak, who was also a former Israel Defense Forces chief of staff and defense minister. “It’s borderline treason.”
“Ultimately, the prime minister’s close circle [of associates] is involved in this,” he added.
Though Netanyahu himself is not a suspect in the case, Barak said police accusations of criminality against the prime minister’s former lawyer and other close aides warranted his resignation.
“In every normal country in the world, Netanyahu would put down his keys and resign from his role,” said Barak, who was a commander of the premier’s in the army before eventually defeating him in elections for prime minister in 1999 and later serving as his defense minister (2009-2013).
“If [Netanyahu] knew, his place is in jail. If he didn’t know, then he isn’t fit to lead the country,” Barak added.
The former Labor prime minister’s call for Netanyahu’s resignation echoes a demand made by a number of top opposition figures since police recommended Thursday a number of high-profile figures be indicted in Case 3000, among them the prime minister’s former lawyer, chief of staff, and candidate for national security adviser.
Avi Gabbay, the current head of Labor and opposition Zionist Union alliance, said the allegations against the aides to Netanyahu amounted to “treason” while former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon said the fact that police were not considering Netanyahu a suspect despite the involvement of his trusted attorney David Shimron raised serious questions about the investigation.
Netanyahu’s Likud party issued a statement hitting back at Barak, who it accused of “hurling baseless accusations” against the prime minister.
It also said it shared in the “sorrow of Gabbay and his friends in the Zionist Union, who serve as a reminder that their efforts to attach Prime Minister Netanyahu to the issue of submarines has sunk into the depths.”
In addition to Shimron, who is also Netanyahu’s cousin, police said there was sufficient evidence to indict former National Security Council deputy head Brig. Gen (res.) Avriel Bar-Yosef; former navy chief Eliezer Marom; David Sharan, a former Netanyahu chief of staff; Brig. Gen (res.) Shay Brosh; and former minister Eliezer Sandberg.
Police recommended the suspects be charged with bribery, fraud, breach of trust, money laundering, and other lesser charges.
Despite Netanyahu’s ties to suspects in the case, Shimron rejected claims the prime minister — who has been questioned as a witness but not as a suspect in the scandal — was aware of or involved in alleged wrongdoing.
“I don’t give the prime minister information about my customers, just as I don’t ask him about various matters he deals with,” Shimron told Hadashot TV news in an interview Thursday.
Shimron also denied any wrongdoing on his own part and said he believed prosecutors would close the case without an indictment.
Shimron is suspected of pushing for a 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 allegedly being pushed by Shimron would also have seen ThyssenKrupp construct a lucrative shipyard in Israel, where the company would maintain the new vessels.
Police said there was insufficient evidence to recommend indicting Netanyahu’s former adviser and confidant Yitzhak Molcho, Shimron’s law partner, who had also been linked to the case.
Netanyahu himself is not suspected in the case, but has been questioned as a witness by police over the suspicions and is a suspect in a number of other investigations in which he has denied wrongdoing.
The police recommendations will now be reviewed by state prosecutors who will decide whether to prosecute.