Ari Harow, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s one time chief of staff who turned state’s witness in the corruption probe against the premier, has completed his testimony over recent weeks and given police information on potentially incriminating actions he carried out for his former boss, Channel 2 reported on Saturday.
According to the report, Harow has “incriminated” Netanyahu in what is known as Case 2000, which involves a suspected illicit quid pro quo deal between Netanyahu and Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Arnon Mozes that would have seen the prime minister hobble a rival daily, the Sheldon Adelson-backed Israel Hayom, through Knesset legislation in return for more favorable coverage from Yedioth.
Channel 2 said that Harow told police that he was asked by Netanyahu to practically “advance matters” that came up in the Netanyahu-Mozes conversations.
Whereas Netanyahu reportedly has told investigators his conversations with Mozes were not actually related to concrete plans, Harow has told police he was ordered to take actions as a consequence of the Netanyahu-Mozes talks, Channel 2 said, noting there was a police gag order on much of Harow’s testimony.
Further complicating Netanyahu’s position, Adelson is said to have recently testified that Netanyahu spoke with him about the possibility of canceling some of Israel Hayom’s weekend supplements, which would have reduced its appeal and its revenues, Channel 2 said.
Netanyahu denies any wrongdoing in any of the corruption cases.
Police announced on Friday that Harow would avoid jail for signing the state’s witness deal.
However, according to the Channel 2 report, the deal was only inked once he had finished telling police everything he knew, contrary to standard procedure which is for an agreement to be signed before the testimony.
While Harow had completed his interrogations and was being allowed to leave the country on a vacation this Tuesday, he could be called back for follow-up questionings, or even for a face-to-face corroboration of events with Netanyahu, the report said.
On Friday, Hebrew media said that police are expected to recommend charges be brought against Netanyahu in Case 2000 and another case, known as Case 1000, involving alleged illicit gifts received by Netanyahu and his wife Sara from wealthy businessmen.
A police recommendation does not carry legal weight. It is for state prosecutors to decide whether to press charges.
The prime minister would not need to resign even if he is indicted, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked said earlier this week, and again in a Channel 2 interview broadcast Saturday. Ministers have to step down if indicted, but not prime ministers, she said — an opinion not universally accepted by legal experts.
Shaked, whose Jewish Home party sits in the coalition, told Channel 2 that she was opposed to bringing down the government, but there were ethical implications if Netanyahu was indicted.
“If we arrive at a situation in which an indictment is served, the coalition parties will sit down and consider what to do,” she said.
Shaked stressed that she hoped Netanyahu would emerge from the investigations without being charged.
According to a statement from the Israel Police Friday, Harow is expected to receive six months of community service and a NIS 700,000 fine ($193,000) on breach of trust charges in exchange for his testimony.
In Case 1000, Netanyahu and his wife are suspected of receiving illicit gifts from billionaire benefactors, most notably hundreds of thousands of shekels’ worth of cigars and champagne from the Israeli-born Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan.
Harow is expected to provide information in both probes, having served as chief of staff during the time of the alleged deal with Mozes and while Netanyahu is said to have received gifts worth thousands of shekels.
Channel 2 reported Friday that Harow was sent by Netanyahu to finalize the deal with Mozes, giving him — and police — first-hand knowledge of the suspected deal. Harow reportedly gave police details on the understandings reached between Netanyahu and Mozes, strengthening the police case beyond recordings discovered on Harow’s computer of their meetings in late 2014 and early 2015. This information comes from a separate police investigation into Harow’s affairs on suspicion that when he came back to work for Netanyahu in 2014, he only fictitiously sold his consulting firm, rather than genuinely doing so, as was required.
Harow is also expected to provide details on the method of gift-giving to the Netanyahus by Milchan and the prime minister’s awareness of it. Netanyahu is a primary suspect in the case; both he and his wife have denied wrongdoing.
In a Friday evening video before the start of Shabbat, Netanyahu said the investigations against him were “background noise” and that he was focused on working on behalf of Israeli citizens. It came hours after the deal with Harow was announced.
In a Friday interview with Channel 2, Likud MK David Bitan, the coalition chairman and a close associate of Netanyahu, said it was “unpleasant” that someone like Harow, who once worked closely with the prime minister, would now testify against him, but argued that Netanyahu could “handle it.”
Bitan went on to warn Likud ministers who have not publicly supported Netanyahu that the party will “settle scores” with them in the primaries.
A former adviser to Netanyahu, Odelia Karmon, told Channel 2 that Harow was definitely “someone in the know” with regards to the inner workings of Netanyahu’s dealings and assessed that Netanyahu was “losing sleep” over the development.
Police on Thursday explicitly said for the first time that a number of corruption investigations involving Netanyahu deal with “bribery, fraud and breach of trust.” The police stopped short of saying that the Israeli leader was directly suspected of these crimes.
Netanyahu has consistently denied wrongdoing.
Harow first worked for Netanyahu as foreign affairs adviser during his stint as leader of the opposition. He then spearheaded the 2009 election campaign that catapulted Netanyahu back into office. Following the election, he served as the prime minister’s bureau chief until 2010, managing Netanyahu’s schedule and advising him on a range of issues.
Harow took a break from politics in 2010, when he founded 3H Global. He later returned as chief of staff of the Prime Minister’s Office in 2014, serving there for a year before leaving to run the 2015 election campaign for Netanyahu’s Likud party.