Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be asked to give testimony in the coming weeks in the investigation into suspected corruption in Israel’s purchase of submarines from a German shipbuilder, Hadashot news reported Friday.
Netanyahu will be questioned generally and then later, possibly under caution too, the report said. This comes even as authorities have said several times that Netanyahu is not a suspect in the case.
However, police want to speak to Netanyahu because of the involvement of some of the prime minister’s closest advisers in the case, particularly Yitzchak Molcho, Netanyahu’s chief negotiator and personal envoy for over a decade, and his legal partner David Shimron, Netanyahu’s cousin and personal attorney.
The report said that Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz would also be questioned, as several of his top aides have also been implicated. Police want to know how it’s possible that everyone around the two politicians was involved but knew nothing, the report said.
A spokesman for Netanyahu rejected any attempt to link the prime minister to the case, known as case 3000.
“Time after time there are forced attempts to tie the prime minister to the submarine and naval vessel affair, even after the Justice Ministry clarified that the prime minister is not suspected of anything,” a statement said.
“We have seen lots of predictions over time and lots of speculation about what might be, but one thing is clear,there will be nothing because there is nothing,” the statement said, repeating Netanyahu’s mantra.
Netanyahu has already been questioned several times in two other cases, where he is a suspect, known as cases 1000 and 2000.
In Case 1000, Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, 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.
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.
Netanyahu has denied wrongdoing in both cases.
In case 3000, investigators suspect that state officials were paid bribes to influence a decision to buy submarines and patrol boats from German shipbuilder ThyssenKrupp, despite opposition from the Defense Ministry.
Police suspect that the Molcho tried to push the submarine deal during his diplomatic trips abroad, while Shimron sought to promote the interests of the German shipbuilders within Israel.
Despite the fact that both work as private lawyers, police are investigating Molcho on suspicion of breach of trust as a public servant, because his diplomatic missions were conducted on behalf of the prime minister.
Shimron has already been questioned several times as part of the investigation by Lahav 433, the police anti-corruption unit. He served as a lawyer for Miki Ganor, ThyssenKrupp’s local representative, who turned state’s witness in July and is considered a key suspect in the case.
Molcho is also believed to have been implicated by Ganor, who testified to the state that Shimron had touted his partner’s ability to push ThyssenKrupp’s interests in winning the naval vessel tender.
The investigation of Molcho as a criminal suspect comes just two weeks after he resigned as Netanyahu’s chief negotiator, a position he held since 2006.
Molcho, who also served as a negotiator on Netanyahu’s behalf during the 2013-2014 Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, said he based his request to step down on a feeling of fulfillment.
However, the announcement came a day before the state was set to provide its response to a High Court of Justice petition calling on Molcho to suspend himself over an alleged conflict of interest due to Shimron’s suspected involvement in Case 3000.
The petition argued that Molcho, even when he was not a suspect in the case, could not continue as the prime minister’s envoy on international affairs given that his legal partner was profiting from deals made by the Israeli government.
Molcho’s confidants said at the time that he had simply grown tired over the years, and that his weariness was compounded by incessant personal attacks, despite his work being on a volunteer basis.