Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday called allegations of impropriety on his part in Israel’s submarine deals with Germany “contrived slander.”
“I didn’t get a shekel from the submarine deal,” the premier told local authority leaders in the West Bank settlement of Shiloh.
“This was checked extensively by the prosecution and the attorney general,” Netanyahu added. “They stated unequivocally that I am not suspected of anything.”
According to a Channel 13 news report last week, the State Comptroller’s Office has discovered that Netanyahu was once a shareholder in a company that supplies German shipbuilder Thyssenkrupp, which has built submarines for Israel.
Netanyahu added that accusations by the Blue and White party that he has been implicated in “the greatest security-related corruption case in the history of the State of Israel” was due to “panic” on the part of party leaders Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid.
Netanyahu was responding to an all-out offensive by his election rivals over the fresh allegations that he may have earned millions of shekels from the so-called submarine affair.
The high-profile Case 3000 investigation has snared several close associates of Netanyahu, but not the premier himself, on suspicion that they received illicit funds as part of a massive graft scheme in the multi-billion-shekel state purchase of naval vessels from German shipbuilder Thyssenkrupp.
According to the Channel 13 report last week, the State Comptroller’s Office found that Netanyahu and his cousin Nathan Milikowsky were shareholders in a graphite electrodes manufacturing company, GrafTech International, a longtime supplier of Thyssenkrupp.
Having previously claimed he obtained the shares as a private citizen, Netanyahu has appeared to change his story, admitting he became a shareholder in 2007 while serving as the leader of the opposition, Haaretz reported Monday.
On Monday, in their first full press conference Blue and White’s top echelon accused Netanyahu of being implicated in “the greatest security-related corruption case in the history of the State of Israel.”
Gantz, speaking with Lapid, Moshe Ya’alon, and Gabi Ashkenazi at his side, accused Netanyahu of receiving a reported NIS 16 million [$4.5 million] “right into his pocket.”
Gantz said that if he wins the election, Blue and White will establish a parliamentary commission of inquiry into Netanyahu’s ties to the case, as well as his alleged green-lighting of sales of advanced naval weaponry to Egypt.
Case 3000, however, is “the biggest blow to the public trust in the system; it is also a blow to security,” Gantz said, charging that IDF soldiers “deserve answers” from Netanyahu over his involvement in the case.
In addition to Milikowsky’s involvement, the investigation has already seen police recommend bribery charges against another cousin of Netanyahu, his long-term attorney David Shimron; his former bureau chief David Sharan; his former pick for National Security adviser Avriel Bar-Yosef; former head of the navy Eliezer Marom; and former minister Eliezer Sandberg. Netanyahu has been interviewed as a witness in the case, but is not a suspect.
Shimron represented Thyssenkrupp in the sale and is suspected of trading his influence over the prime minister in return for a hefty cut of the deal. Police believe he pushed for a NIS 6 billion ($1.5 billion) defense contract to purchase submarines for the Israeli Navy and other vessels to protect the country’s offshore natural gas fields.
Netanyahu’s own role in the purchase decision, including his insistence that Thyssenkrupp be exempted from the usual Defense Ministry tender process, raised concerns of a conflict of interest for Shimron. Part of the agreement allegedly pushed by Shimron would also have seen Thyssenkrupp construct a lucrative shipyard in Israel, where the company would maintain the new vessels.
Last month, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit announced his intention to indict Netanyahu on charges of fraud and breach of trust in three separate cases, 1000, 2000, and 4000, and for bribery in the last of the three. The prime minister denies the allegations, and says the cases are part of a political witch hunt designed to oust him, involving the left, the media and the police pressuring a weak attorney general.
While a sitting Israeli prime minister has never been this close to indictment before, Netanyahu is not obligated to resign at this stage. The planned indictment is still subject to a hearing, during which Netanyahu can plead his case before formal charges are filed. That process will take place after April 9 elections, likely before July, according to the Justice Ministry.