Gantz: Criminal investigation into my former firm has ‘political aroma’

Blue and White chief questions timing of decision to probe company he once led, shortly before the elections; though he’s not named as a suspect, police said weighing phone search

Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz in an interview with Channel 12 news aired on February 21, 2019. (Screen capture: Channel 12)
Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz in an interview with Channel 12 news aired on February 21, 2019. (Screen capture: Channel 12)

Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz on Friday suggested the opening of a criminal probe into a failed cybersecurity firm he led before it went bankrupt was influenced by political factors.

In an interview with Channel 12 news, Gantz also denied any wrongdoing during his time at Fifth Dimension and reiterated his support for investigators.

“I really respect law enforcement authorities… I think that a system like this is an important foundation of Israeli democracy. Even if sometimes it is not comfortable for me on a personal level,” he said.

Acting State Attorney Dan Eldad ordered an investigation Thursday into Fifth Dimension over suspicions police may have violated acquisition laws by not issuing an open tender while dealing with the firm, and that the firm presented law enforcement false information about its operations.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit has indicated Gantz, who was chairman of the board at Fifth Dimension, is not a suspect in the case.

The announcement of the investigation, which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his allies have been calling for, came less than two weeks before the March 2 general elections.

“I can’t ignore the political aroma hiding behind the timing of the call for this investigation,” Gantz said.

He continued: “I see the the glass half full. The investigative authority will investigate and I’m completely calm. I’m not a suspect and won’t be a suspect and I think this whole matter will turn out to be spin meant to serve the agenda of Netanyahu.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz at a memorial ceremony marking 24 years since the assassination of former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, in the Knesset on November 10, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Gantz was then asked whether he thought Eldad ordered the investigation in return for Justice Minister Amir Ohana, a Likud member and Netanyahu ally, appointing him acting state attorney. He noted Hebrew media reports saying Ohana and Public Security Gilad Erdan lobbied Eldad to open the probe.

“I don’t know about these conversations but I want to return to the important thing,” Gantz said. “There is a political aroma to this incident. It is not coincidental in timing, the circumstances or those involved.”

Gantz then contrasted his attitude toward prosecutors to that of Netanyahu, who will stand on trial on graft charges next month that he alleged were drummed up by law enforcement, the media and his political rivals.

“Unlike Netanyahu and his group of helpers, who are doing everything possible to turn Israel into Turkey based on an Erdogan model, I will foster the rule of law,” he said.

Also in the interview, Gantz said if he were prime minister, he would resign if indicted on criminal charges, as he has repeatedly called for Netanyahu to do.

Though Gantz is not believed to be a suspect, Channel 13 reported Friday that police are considering seeking a search warrant for the cellphones of the Blue and White leader and Roni Alsheich, who was police commissioner during the period being investigated.

Then Israel Police commissioner Roni Alsheich (L) poses for a picture with Benny Gantz (R) at a ceremony marking Alsheich’s retirement, in Beit Shemesh on November 29, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Quoting an unnamed senior police official, the network said police would likely have no choice to but to search their phones to get to the bottom of the case.

“There’s a high likelihood that in the future we’ll request from the judge to read the correspondence between Benny Gantz, Roni Alsheich, Bentzi Sau and [David] Cohen,” the official was quoted saying.

Sau is a former deputy police commissioner who briefly served as acting police chief in 2015, while Cohen is a former police commissioner and brother of current acting police chief Motti Cohen.

The report also said Doron Cohen, a former Mossad official who was CEO of Fifth Dimension, will be at the center of the investigation and is expected to soon be questioned under caution.

Gantz, a former military chief of staff, retired from the army in 2015 and got involved in a number of business ventures, including as chairman of Fifth Dimension, which developed artificial intelligence solutions for law enforcement agencies.

Fifth Dimension declared bankruptcy in 2018 after its largest investor Viktor Vekselberg, a Russian businessman with ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin, was sanctioned by the United States.

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