Mandelblit: Decision to probe Gantz’s former firm not driven by politics

Mandelblit: Decision to probe Gantz’s former firm not driven by politics

Attorney general pushes back after Blue and White head questions timing of investigation into company he once led, shortly before the elections; says no elected officials suspected

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit speaks at the 16th annual Jerusalem Conference of the 'Besheva' group, on February 24, 2020 (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit speaks at the 16th annual Jerusalem Conference of the 'Besheva' group, on February 24, 2020 (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit on Monday rebuffed claims that the launch of a criminal probe into a failed cybersecurity firm led by Blue and White chief Benny Gantz before it went bankrupt was influenced by political factors.

Acting State Attorney Dan Eldad ordered an investigation Thursday into Fifth Dimension over suspicions that police may have violated acquisition laws by not issuing an open tender while dealing with the company, and that the company presented law enforcement false information about its operations.

Though Gantz, who was chairman of the board at Fifth Dimension, is not a suspect, the move by Eldad, who was recently named to the post by Likud Justice Minister Amir Ohana, was seen by some as politically motivated, coming just ahead of national elections.

“Some people want to make a false representation as if there were political considerations; there never were and there never will be. The work of the prosecutor’s office is professional and detached from outside considerations,” Mandelblit told a conference in Jerusalem.

Mandelblit said the decision was Eldad’s to make because the suspicions did not concern elected officials, Channel 13 news reported.

Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz speaks to supporters in Tel Aviv on February 20, 2020. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

“I am convinced that the acting state attorney is not acting out of political considerations. It is a false claim intended to impair public confidence in the State Attorney’s Office and should be rejected with all force,” Mandelblit said.

The announcement of the investigation, which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his allies have been calling for, came less than two weeks before the March 2 general elections.

In an interview with Channel 12 news on Friday, Gantz denied any wrongdoing during his time at Fifth Dimension and reiterated his support for investigators.

“I really respect law enforcement authorities… I think that a system like this is an important foundation of Israeli democracy. Even if sometimes it is not comfortable for me on a personal level,” he said.

But “I can’t ignore the whiff of politics hiding behind the timing of the call for this investigation,” Gantz said.

He continued: “I see the the glass half full. The investigative authority will investigate and I’m completely calm. I’m not a suspect and won’t be a suspect and I think this whole matter will turn out to be spin meant to serve Netanyahu’s agenda.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz at a memorial ceremony marking 24 years since the assassination of former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, in the Knesset on November 10, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Gantz was asked whether he thought Eldad ordered the investigation in return for Justice Minister Amir Ohana, a Likud member and Netanyahu ally, appointing him acting state attorney. He noted Hebrew media reports saying Ohana and Public Security Gilad Erdan lobbied Eldad to open the probe.

“I don’t know about these conversations but I want to return to the important thing,” Gantz said. “There is whiff of politics to this incident. It is not coincidental in timing, circumstances or those involved.”

Gantz contrasted his attitude toward prosecutors to that of Netanyahu, who will stand trial next month on graft charges that he alleges were drummed up by law enforcement, the media and his political rivals.

“Unlike Netanyahu and his group of helpers, who are doing everything possible to turn Israel into Turkey based on [President Recep Tayyip] Erdogan’s model, I will foster the rule of law,” he said.

Also in the interview, Gantz said if he were prime minister, he would resign if indicted on criminal charges, as he has repeatedly called for Netanyahu to do.

Though Gantz is not believed to be a suspect, Channel 13 reported Friday that police are considering seeking a search warrant for the cellphones of the Blue and White leader and of Roni Alsheich, who was police commissioner during the period being investigated.

Then Israel Police commissioner Roni Alsheich (L) with Benny Gantz (R) at a ceremony marking Alsheich’s retirement, in Beit Shemesh on November 29, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Quoting an unnamed senior police official, the network said police would likely have no choice to but to search the phones to get to the bottom of the case.

“There’s a high likelihood that in the future we’ll request from the judge to read the correspondence between Benny Gantz, Roni Alsheich, Bentzi Sau and [David] Cohen,” the official was quoted saying.

Sau is a former deputy police commissioner who briefly served as acting police chief in 2015, and Cohen is a former police commissioner and brother of current acting police chief Motti Cohen.

The report also said Doron Cohen, a former Mossad official who was CEO of Fifth Dimension, will be at the center of the investigation and is expected to soon be questioned under caution.

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.

Fifth Dimension declared bankruptcy in 2018 after its largest investor Viktor Vekselberg, a Russian businessman with ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin, was sanctioned by the United States.

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