Investigators weighed whether questioning PM would hurt submarine deal — report

Law enforcement agencies reportedly sought assurances that involving Netanyahu in corruption probe would not harm national security

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu touring the INS Tanin submarine, built by the German firm Thyssenkrupp, as it arrived in Israel on September 23, 2014. (Kobi Gideon/GPO/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu touring the INS Tanin submarine, built by the German firm Thyssenkrupp, as it arrived in Israel on September 23, 2014. (Kobi Gideon/GPO/Flash90)

Before deciding whether to question Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the so-called submarine affair, law enforcement agencies considered whether it would scuttle a deal to purchase vessels from Germany and thereby harm national security, the Hebrew-language Yedioth Ahronoth daily reported Thursday.

Netanyahu is expected to testify on Friday in the investigation, known as Case 3000, in which he has not been named a suspect. The case involves suspected corruption in the multi-billion-shekel purchase of submarines and other naval vessels from German shipbuilder ThyssenKrupp.

In October, Germany approved a Memorandum of Understanding with Israel for the construction of three Dolphin type submarines to be added to Israel’s fleet of six submarines. The agreement included a clause saying the deal will not be advanced while the corruption investigation is ongoing. It also gave Germany the right to withdraw from the deal regardless of whether any criminal conduct was ultimately uncovered by police in the purchase, Yedioth said.

While the prime minister has not officially been designated a suspect in so-called Case 3000, a Hadashot TV news report on Friday said Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit has authorized investigators to take testimony from Netanyahu in the probe and — if the need arises — to question him under caution.

According to the Yedioth report, police were concerned that questioning Netanyahu could cause Germany to walk away from the deal and damage national security.

Over the past several weeks, discussions have reportedly been held among senior officials in the Justice Ministry, the police force, the defense establishment, and officials connected to the German government. The talks tried to secure assurances from Germany that the deal would not be canceled even if investigators found that the deal was tainted with corruption, provided Israel took the necessary steps to combat the offenses.

According to Yedioth sources, the discussion revolved around whether questioning the prime minister could cause the Germans to abandon the deal.

Investigators reportedly also consulted with international legal experts who said the deal with Germany would not necessarily be endangered, even if Netanyahu was questioned under caution as a suspect in the case.

The Justice Ministry would not confirm or deny the report. “We do not deal with speculation, and we neither confirm nor deny anything in your claims,” the ministry told Yedioth. The police said it could not offer comment on an active investigation.

Netanyahu and his wife Sara are also expected to be questioned on Friday as part of the investigations into Case 4000. In that case, the prime minister is alleged to have provided regulatory benefits to Israel’s largest telephone company, Bezeq, in exchange for Bezeq’s chief shareholder, Shaul Elovitch, giving Netanyahu and his family positive coverage on the Walla news site, which Elovitch owns.

Earlier this month, police recommended that Netanyahu be indicted for fraud, breach of trust, and bribery in two other cases.

In Case 1000, Netanyahu and his wife are alleged to have received illicit gifts from billionaire benefactors, most notably the Israeli-born Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan, totaling NIS 1 million ($282,000). In return, Netanyahu is alleged by police to have intervened on Milchan’s behalf in matters relating to legislation, business dealings, and visa arrangements.

Case 2000 involves a suspected illicit quid pro quo deal between Netanyahu and Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Arnon Mozes that would have seen the prime minister weaken a rival daily, the Sheldon Adelson-backed Israel Hayom, in return for more favorable coverage from Yedioth.

Netanyahu has denied any wrongdoing in all the cases.

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