Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that he had been totally vindicated of any suspicions that he acted dishonorably in a corruption investigation case involving the purchase of submarines and boats from a German shipbuilder.
He lashed out at the media and lawmakers who have suggested he was involved and said he expected them to apologize. “The air has gone out of that balloon,” he said in a video posted Wednesday to his Facebook page.
On Tuesday, police questioned the prime minister for five hours about the so-called Case 3000, in which the premier is not a suspect.
It was the first time he was questioned about the case, in which state officials are suspected of having been 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 are reportedly set to recommend indicting five suspects in the case, including Netanyahu’s former adviser and confidant Yitzchak Molcho and the PM’s personal lawyer and cousin David Shimron, who representeed the local ThyssenKrupp representative.
Netanyahu told police he had been unaware of Shimron’s connection to ThussenKrupp.
In Wednesday’s video, Netanyahu said, “During long months, we’ve heard all sorts of stories and fabrications about me, with all sorts of photographs which show me going in and out of submarines, as if I took decisions for ulterior motives.
“Yesterday it became totally clear that my considerations regarding the submarines and ships were totally proffesional, and, as always, concerned with Israel’s security.
“I would expect to hear from the media and from politicians such as [Yair] Lapid [of Yesh Atid] or [former defense minister and ex-chief of staff Moshe] Bogie Ya’alon that they apologize. They haven’t done so until now.
“But the air has gone out of that balloon and in the end it’ll go out of all the other balloons too. Will they apologize then? It’s doubtful, but one can always hope,” Netanyahu said.
Yaalon has charged that there is “no way” Netanyahu was not involved in the scandal-plagued deals.
“Is it not obvious something stinks?” asked Ya’alon last year, who was fired by Netanyahu in 2016. “There is no way the prime minister wasn’t involved.”
Lapid, leader of the opposition Yesh Atid party, who served as finance minister under Netanyahu during negotiations for the deal in 2015, also cast doubt on the prime minister’s claim that he knew nothing about Shimron’s role.
A police statement issued after the questioning stressed that the prime minister had “given testimony,” as opposed to having been interrogated as a suspect, and the police commissioner has previously stressed that he is not being treated as one.
The state prosecution is currently considering whether to indict the prime minister in other corruption probes, known as Case 1000 and Case 2000, after police in February recommended putting Netanyahu on trial in both.
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. In April, Channel 10 reported that prosecutors are likely to recommend charging Netanyahu with breach of trust in the case, but may not pursue more serious bribery charges.
Case 2000 involves a suspected illicit quid pro quo deal between Netanyahu and Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper 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. Prosecutors have yet to formulate a position.
Case 4000, 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 prime minister’s wife Sara and son Yair have both been questioned in the cases as well.
The Netanyahus have denied all and any wrongdoing.
Raoul Wootliff contributed to this report.