Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz on Wednesday hinted he may file a lawsuit against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the premier’s unproven claim that Gantz personally pocketed millions at the expense of the public.
In his speech Wednesday night accompanying his request that the Knesset grant him immunity from prosecution in three corruption cases, Netanyahu argued that law enforcement authorities were discriminating against him and failing to investigate other politicians suspected of wrongdoing.
“There are people who committed grave offenses but have automatic immunity for life,” Netanyahu claimed. “They are simply on the right side of the media and the left. Benny Gantz — who took NIS 50 million [$14.5 million] of public money without a tender and pocketed NIS four million [$1.16 million] — hasn’t even been investigated.”
State prosecutors in November began poring over evidence on potential criminal ties between police and the Fifth Dimension tech firm, which was owned by Gantz and went bankrupt last year.
Netanyahu’s claim cast the details of Gantz’s alleged wrongdoing as fact despite authorities reportedly not regarding Gantz as a suspect in the case and only probing the cybersecurity company he owned, not him — potentially opening the door for the Blue and White chief to file a libel lawsuit. Additionally, the NIS 50 million deal reportedly never materialized.
In September, Channel 13 reported that Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit had ordered a new probe in the case. While Gantz himself is not under suspicion of wrongdoing, the report said, the Attorney General’s Office has requested information from the state comptroller regarding NIS 4 million granted to the firm for a pilot project with police, after company executives allegedly provided police with misleading information, as well as a NIS 50 million contract supposedly granted without the issuing of a tender, in violation of acquisition regulations.
Mandelblit reportedly gave the September order despite the state comptroller having found no evidence that criminal offenses were committed when he looked into the matter six months earlier.
According to the state’s response to a High Court of Justice petition demanding a criminal investigation, the state comptroller in late October provided the Justice Ministry with materials relating to the allegations, which are currently being studied to determine whether further legal action is necessary.
During a press conference Wednesday evening shortly after Netanyahu’s speech, Gantz was asked to comment on Netanyahu’s remarks.
“Everything Netanyahu said in that regard is an utter lie that will be dealt with separately, using the tools that are at my disposal according to the law in the State of Israel,” Gantz replied. “I have never broken the law, I will never break the law, and I will deal — in the framework of the law — with this completely baseless lie.”
He refused to go into further detail and clarify whether he intended to sue Netanyahu.
In March, the State Comptroller’s Office said the Israel Police had negotiated a contract with the cybersecurity company, headed at the time by prime ministerial candidate Gantz, without issuing a tender, in violation of acquisition regulations.
State Comptroller Yosef Shapira also said in the report, which detailed alleged deficiencies in the police’s acquisition process, that Fifth Dimension presented law enforcement with false information about its operations.
The report prompted Gantz’s Likud political rivals to call for a criminal investigation. Gantz’s Blue and White party denied any wrongdoing on his part.
The company went bankrupt in December 2018 because the US government sanctioned its largest investor, a Russian oligarch.
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.