In first, Netanyahu gives testimony in submarines probe
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In first, Netanyahu gives testimony in submarines probe

Prime minister not a suspect in Case 3000 on purchase of naval vessels; a number of his close confidants could face charges

Raoul Wootliff covers politics, corruption and crime for The Times of Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads the weekly government conference at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on June 10, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads the weekly government conference at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on June 10, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave testimony to police Tuesday in a massive corruption investigation surrounding the purchase of submarines and naval vessels from a German shipbuilder.

Investigators questioned the prime minister at his official residence in Jerusalem for five hours over the so-called Case 3000, in which the premier is not a suspect.

It was the first time the prime minister was questioned about the case.

Case 3000 involves suspicions that state officials were paid bribes to influence a decision to purchase four patrol boats and three Dolphin-class submarines costing a total of 2 billion euros from German shipbuilder ThyssenKrupp, despite opposition to the deal by the Defense Ministry.

Police said in a statement that Netanyahu “gave testimony over a period of several hours” in the probe.

“The investigation is being conducted under the supervision and oversight of the state prosecutor and with the approval of the attorney general,” the statement continued. “Beyond that, we cannot elaborate on additional details from ongoing investigations.”

A spokesperson for the Netanyahu family said the prime minister “detailed all the professional considerations which guided his decision-making in the matter of the submarines and naval vessels, and their importance to the security of the country.”

“The prime minister welcomed the opportunity to clarify the complete picture and to finally put an end to the false claims that have been made against him by politicians and others,” the spokesperson said.

A number of Netanyahu’s close confidants have been arrested as part of the case.

Netanyahu’s lawyers and advisers David Shimron (L) and Yitzhak Molcho (R). (Tomer Neuberg/FLASH90 and Michal Fattal/Flash90)

Police are reportedly set to recommend indicting five suspects in the case, including Netanyahu’s former adviser and confidant Yitzchak Molcho and his personal lawyer and cousin David Shimron.

Police suspect that Molcho tried to push the submarine deal during his diplomatic trips abroad, while Shimron, Molcho’s legal partner, sought to promote the interests of the German shipbuilders within Israel.

Shimron has been questioned several times as part of the investigation by the Lahav 433 anti-corruption unit. In addition to his work with Netanyahu, he served as a lawyer for Miki Ganor, who was ThyssenKrupp’s local representative and who turned state’s witness in July. Shimron is considered a key suspect in the case.

Protesters demonstrate against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outside his residence in Jerusalem, ahead of the arrival of police investigators coming to question Netanyahu, on June 12, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Netanyahu was expected to be questioned as a suspect Tuesday in a separate corruption case involving the country’s telecom giant, Bezeq.

Two Netanyahu confidants have been arrested on suspicion of promoting regulation worth hundreds of millions of dollars to the telecom company. In return, Bezeq’s subsidiary news site, Walla, allegedly provided positive Netanyahu coverage. The confidants have turned state witnesses.

But police later said investigators had questioned Netanyahu only over the submarine affair.

As investigators arrived at Netanyahu’s residence on Tuesday, some 20 protesters gathered outside, calling on the prime minister to step down amid the investigations.

Netanyahu has faced investigators nine times since the beginning of 2017 in connection with three cases in which he is a suspect.

Case 4000, the high-profile graft probe relating to the national phone company Bezeq, recently acquired new evidence from a key state’s witness reportedly implicating Netanyahu in an illicit quid pro quo deal.

The probe involves suspicions that Netanyahu, who has also served as communications minister for several years over his past two terms, advanced regulatory decisions benefiting Bezeq controlling shareholder Shaul Elovitch in exchange for flattering coverage of the Netanyahus from the Elovitch-owned Walla news site.

The state prosecution is currently considering whether to indict the prime minister in two other corruption probes, Case 1000 and Case 2000, after police in February recommended putting Netanyahu on trial in both.

In Case 1000 — in which Netanyahu and his wife are suspected of receiving illicit gifts from billionaire benefactors — Netanyahu family spokesperson-turned state’s witness Nir Hefetz reportedly provided investigators with names of additional patrons of the couple, seemingly strengthening the case that the alleged behavior was part of a pattern.

American Jewish billionaire Sheldon Adelson seen with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a ceremony at Ariel University in the West Bank on June 28, 2017. (Ben Dori/Flash90)

In Case 2000 — which involves a suspected illicit quid pro quo deal between Netanyahu and Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper publisher Arnon Mozes — Hefetz was said to have provided names of additional figures involved in the conversations between the two.

In April, Channel 10 reported that prosecutors are likely to recommend charging Netanyahu with breach of trust in Case 1000, but may not pursue more serious bribery charges.

Prosecutors have yet to formulate an opinion on Case 2000.

The prime minister’s wife Sara and son Yair have both been questioned in the cases as well.

The Netanyahus have denied any wrongdoing.

Times of Israel staff, AP contributed to this report.

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