Likud calls for probe; Blue and White says no wrongdoing

Ombudsman castigates police over talks for NIS 50m deal with firm run by Gantz

Comptroller says police didn’t issue a tender before paying NIS4m for pilot project, negotiating bigger deal, with Fifth Dimension, which gave false information on its operations

Then Israel Police commissioner Roni Alsheich (L) poses for a picture with former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz (R) at a ceremony marking Alsheich's retirement, in Beit Shemesh on November 29, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Then Israel Police commissioner Roni Alsheich (L) poses for a picture with former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz (R) at a ceremony marking Alsheich's retirement, in Beit Shemesh on November 29, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The State Comptroller’s Office said Wednesday that the Israel Police negotiated a contract with a cybersecurity company headed at the time by prime ministerial candidate Benny Gantz without issuing a tender, in violation of acquisition regulations.

State Comptroller Yosef Shapira also said in its report, detailing alleged deficiencies in the police’s acquisition process, that Fifth Dimension presented law enforcement with false information about its operations.

The report prompted Gantz’s Likud political rivals to call for a criminal investigation. Gantz’s Blue and White party denied any wrongdoing on his part. Channel 12 news noted Wednesday night that the Comptroller had not transferred the report for the attorney general’s office for possible follow-up investigation since there was no allegation of criminal wrongdoing.

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 and went bankrupt last year. Fifth Dimension declared bankruptcy in December.

Following the report’s release, the State Comptroller’s Office put out a statement emphasizing that its findings solely concerned police conduct and noting Fifth Dimension is not mentioned by name in the report. “The State Comptroller’s Office does not look into private companies,” a spokesperson said.

According to the state comptroller, Fifth Dimension told the Israel Police’s acquisition committee in 2016 that it was founded four years earlier, instead of three; said it had an already-developed product, when it did not; and said it had five customers that were all security organizations, when it did not have any at the time.

The report faulted police for approving a pilot project by Fifth Dimension without a tender for NIS 4 million ($1.1 million), and later entering into negotiations with the firm for a NIS 50 million contract, without taking offers from any other companies.

“Police should have reached out to other technology companies, whether start-ups or veteran firms, and informed them of its intention” to sign a contract for technology services worth NIS 50 million, Shapira wrote.

State Comptroller Yosef Shapira attends the presentation of the State Comptroller’s report at the Knesset, March 14, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The report also faulted police for including Gantz and the CEO of Fifth Dimension in a meeting regarding its contacts with the firm, as well as giving the firm access to extensive information on its operations as part of the pilot project, among other findings.

It said then-police commissioner Roni Alsheich was the driving force behind the project and ordered negotiations be held with Fifth Dimension, whose executives featured several former Israel Police brass.

After the pilot was determined to have been successfully completed in September 2017, police earmarked NIS 50 million for the project in its 2017-2018 budget. But the negotiations fell through when Finance Ministry officials said police would need to conduct a “thorough market review” in order for it to recommend that the contract be exempted from a public tender process.

Gantz’s centrist Blue and White party denied any wrongdoing by the retired general during his tenure at Fifth Dimension. “This is a report that deals with the conduct of police regarding tenders or exemptions from tenders. Gantz’s actions as chairman of Fifth Dimension were unimpeachable,” the party said a statement.

Gantz did not address the report during a campaign speech he gave Wednesday evening.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, which has hammered Gantz in its campaign materials over his time at Fifth Dimension, called on Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit to order a criminal investigation into the former chief of staff, “in light of the grave findings in the report, which raise suspicions that Gantz illegally communicated with former police commissioner Roni Alsheich in an attempt to fraudulently take NIS 50 million in public funds.”

At a press conference, Likud ministers Yariv Levin and Ofir Akunis called for an investigation to begin before national elections on April 9.

“There is not one law for Netanyahu and one law for everyone else,” said Akunis, echoing criticism by the premier over Mandelblit’s decision last month to indict the prime minister pending a hearing in a series of corruption investigations.

Netanyahu, who has denied any wrongdoing, railed against the timing of that announcement and said it marked undue interference in Israel’s democratic process.

In his report, Shapira also detailed other cases of alleged misconduct by police regarding its handling of acquisitions, some of which he said could rise to the level of criminal wrongdoing.

These included other cases in which police allegedly did not issue tenders for projects in accordance with regulations, such as the purchase of NIS 340,000 ($93,600) worth of mezuzahs between 2016-17, which Shapira said were bought from suppliers determined ahead of time.

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