Gantz: ‘Political pressure’ may be behind reported plan to probe former company

Amid news Fifth Dimension may be investigated for deal with police, Blue and White leader says he’s ‘totally at ease’; reports say he is not suspected of wrongdoing

Blue and White leader Benny Gantz gives television interview, February 15, 2020 (Screen grab/Channel 12 news)
Blue and White leader Benny Gantz gives television interview, February 15, 2020 (Screen grab/Channel 12 news)

Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz denied wrongdoing on Thursday after media reports said an investigation would be launched into an allegedly shady deal between a company he once headed and the Israel Police.

The reports said Gantz is not a suspect in the affair. But the development comes less than two weeks before national elections and during a campaign by Gantz’s Blue and White party that has tried to focus attention on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s indictment for corruption charges.

“It all sounds like political pressure to get this thing on the public agenda,” Gantz told Army Radio. “I am totally at ease. This was checked in the past and no criminal suspicion was found.”

Israel goes to the polls on March 2, the third national vote in less than a year after two elections in 2019 ended inconclusively, with neither Netanyahu or Gantz able to forge a coalition government. Pre-election surveys have predicted similar results in next month’s vote, potentially extending the deadlock.

It’s not clear if the reports over the affair will move the needle in any way. The months leading up to the campaign have been marked by other bombshells, including the unveiling of US President Donald Trump’s Mideast plan and the setting of a date for the beginning of Netanyahu’s corruption trial, which have not dramatically affected opinion polls.

But it is an embarrassment for Gantz, a former military chief, who has made ousting Netanyahu his main message and has sought to present a squeaky clean image in the face of the long-serving premier’s graft charges.

Blue and White head Benny Gantz at an election event in Tel Aviv, Feb 17, 2020. (Gili Yaari/Flash90)

After retiring from the army, Gantz headed the Fifth Dimension, a cybersecurity company that entered talks with police over the sale of its product. According to the state comptroller, a governmental watchdog, the police may have violated acquisition laws by forgoing a tender in its dealings with the company.

According to an unsourced report by Channel 13 Wednesday, the probe will look at elements within Fifth Dimension that allegedly made misrepresentations to the police, and will examine whether the relationship falls under the legal category of “obtaining something by fraud.”

Several former police brass were among the executives at Fifth Dimension.

The probe was reportedly expected to begin sometime after the March 2 elections. Unnamed Likud officials questioned the timing, according to Channel 12, angry that the investigation was being delayed until after Israelis go to the polls. But unnamed legal experts told the network that the decision to potentially open an investigation was made some four weeks before the election, when an announcement of a probe could be construed as political interference.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a press conference with US President Donald Trump in the East Room of the White House on January 28, 2020, in Washington, DC. (Alex Wong/Getty Images/AFP)

The Justice Ministry would not confirm the media reports, saying only that documents from the state comptroller were being looked into.

Netanyahu has been charged with bribery, breach of trust and fraud in three cases in which he is accused of receiving lavish gifts from billionaire friends and of exchanging regulatory favors with media moguls for more palatable media coverage of him and his family.

Netanyahu denies wrongdoing and claims the charges have been trumped up by a hostile justice system, police and media out to get him.

His trial is set to begin on March 17.

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