The Prime Minister’s Office sought to torpedo an international tender for the construction of patrol ships and submarines for the Israeli Navy, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu himself questioning the need for a tender, former Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon has said, according to a report by the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper published Wednesday.
Ya’alon reportedly told associates that pressure was brought to bear on him directly, as defense minister, to see that the tender was scrapped to ensure that German shipbuilding giant ThyssenKrupp would get the deal. A South Korean company was bidding for the contract at the time.
ThyssenKrupp has been at the center of a major corruption investigation involving the multi-million dollar deal.
Investigators suspect that state officials were paid bribes to influence a decision to buy submarines and patrol boats from ThyssenKrupp, despite opposition from the Defense Ministry.
While Netanyahu has denied wrongdoing in connection with the investigation, and the attorney general has said he isn’t a suspect, a number of former aides and associates of his have been caught up in the unfolding case.
Earlier this year, Channel 2 reported that Ya’alon had told police that Netanyahu had actively tried to get the tender for the patrol boats and for three submarines scrapped, and had gone over the heads of the defense establishment to talk to German government sources about ThyssenKrupp getting the deal.
But claims that Netanyahu and his office personally put the defense minister under pressure were not published at the time.
Ya’alon, who opposed the deal, was fired by Netanyahu in May 2016 and has since been on a crusade to prove that the prime minister is corrupt.
“There was intervention by the Prime Minister’s Office in an attempt to torpedo the tender,” Ya’alon told associates, according to the paper. “Netanyahu himself came to me and said: ‘Why is there a tender?'”
The Prime Minister’s Office refuted Ya’alon’s claims as “baseless.”
The claims relate to Israel’s two billion euro order of four patrol boats and three submarines from ThyssenKrupp in a deal which is now the subject of a police corruption probe known as Case 3000.
In advance of an article to be published by the German weekly Die Zeit on Thursday and a full feature in Yedioth Ahronoth on Friday, the latter also quoted findings from an internal ThyssenKrupp inquiry which, it said, suggested that Netanyahu’s cousin, confidant and personal lawyer, David Shimron, was far more involved in the business side of the deals with the company than his statements to date have suggested.
Police are looking into suspicions that Miki Ganor, who was the local representative of German shipbuilder, along with former National Security Council deputy head Avriel Bar-Yosef, paid bribes in connection with the decision to buy the vessels from ThyssenKrupp.
Since Ganor turned state’s witness, the police’s anti-corruption unit, Lahav 433, has interviewed a long list of senior aides and associates to the premier, including Shimron, who has been questioned several times.
Shimron has said that he provided personal but not business representation for Ganor.
Ganor has reportedly told investigators that Shimron was to receive 20 percent of his own commission of $45 million.
According to Yedioth Ahronoth, records of negotiations about the deal with ThyssenKrupp show that Shimron took part in meetings, together with Ganor and other Israelis.
Furthermore, Shimron was allegedly present at a Tel Aviv lunch in December 2015 to which Ganor had invited the German ambassador to Israel, Clemens von Gatz, according to German foreign ministry records quoted by the paper.
Attorney Yaakov Weinroth and Amit Hadad, who represent Shimron, said he “has never been a partner of Ganor and acted constantly as his attorney. Shimron acted lawfully, and there was no flaw in his actions.”
They stated earlier this year that Shimron was not expected to receive anything from the deal other than his legal fees.
In other revelations, the newspaper says Die Zeit, quoting German sources, reports that Israel asked Germany to add several meters to the length of the three submarines, which some German officials understood to indicate an Israeli desire for the ability to fire heavier nuclear-tipped warheads with a longer range and a higher degree of secrecy.
Yedioth Ahronoth said the request for longer submarines may explain why the Israeli defense establishment changed its position from outright opposition to the purchase of the three submarines to active support.
“We are at grave risk,” a senior official knowledgeable about the subject told the paper. “If even more serious corruption is discovered than what has been discovered to date, Israel is liable to lose the contract on the submarines, which is of dramatic importance to the security of the state.”
The official voiced concern that the corruption probe could lead the German chancellor to scrap the deal.
A statement from ThyssenKrupp said the company had severed ties with Ganor upon hearing about the Israel corruption probe and had opened an internal investigation itself.
The company would use all legal means at its disposal if anyone from ThyssenKrupp was found by the internal inquiry to have lied, the statement added.