PM in unprecedented attack on police chief after report of widening graft probes

Following news he will be summoned for further questioning, Netanyahu suggests top cop is behind ‘tsunami of leaks’ from corruption investigations

Raoul Wootliff is the The Times of Israel's political correspondent.

Chief of Police Roni Alsheich seen with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a welcoming ceremony held in Alsheich's honour, at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, on December 3, 2015. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Chief of Police Roni Alsheich seen with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a welcoming ceremony held in Alsheich's honour, at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, on December 3, 2015. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu launched a scathing and unprecedented attack on Israel’s police chief Saturday, suggesting he is behind a series of leaks from two criminal investigations into alleged corruption at the hand of the prime minister.

The charge came in an official statement released by Netanyahu family spokesman Ofer Golan soon after a TV report asserting that police investigators were expected to summon Netanyahu for further questioning in the graft probes against him.

“When Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich assumed his post, he made two important decisions: that there would be no more leaks in the investigations and there would be no more police recommendations [for indictment],” Netanyahu said in the statement, which was also posted to his official Facebook page.

Lior Horev (Flash90)

“But since Lior Horev was appointed to be the police’s external political adviser at the cost of millions [of shekels] of taxpayer money and without a public tender for the position, the illegal leaks have become a tsunami, and the decision to avoid recommendations [for indictment] disappeared as a result,” the statement added.

Horev is a veteran political operative who has served as media adviser to a number of high-profile politicians, including the late former prime minister Ariel Sharon. He was hired by the police as a media adviser in March 2016 to the tune of 800,000 shekels a year, a few months after Alsheich was appointed as commissioner by Netanyahu. Despite public outcry at the high salary, including a hearing on the appointment in the Knesset’s Interior Affairs Committee, Horev’s contract was extended for a further three years this March.

Chief of Police, Roni Alsheich speaks during a press conference at the police headquarters, Jerusalem on January 22, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Netanyahu’s accusations that Horev, possibly under the instruction of Alsheich, has orchestrated planned leaks to the media, came in response to a Channel 2 news report on Saturday night that police are deepening their investigations into the actions of the prime minister and that he will be summoned for questioning in the two investigations against him, cases 1000 and 2000, in next two weeks.

Case 1000 relates to allegations that Netanyahu and his wife Sara received 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 “Noni” 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.

Investigators are also expected to set a date for Netanyahu to provide testimony as a witness in Case 3000, which involves alleged corruption in the sale of German submarines to Israel by several associates of the prime minister, the report said.

Netanyahu, who has denied any wrongdoing, has increasingly lashed out at the media of late amid developments in the cases, accusing the press of playing up the investigations against him in order to end his premiership and devoting an inordinate amount of attention to weekly protests near Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit’s home in Petah Tikva calling for the prime minister to be indicted.

“The public knows that there is an obvious media witch hunt against Prime Minister Netanyahu. As has happened in the past, all the accusations against the prime minister will be proved as false, and nothing will come of them,” the PMO statement read Saturday.

Arnon Milchan (center) with Shimon Peres (left) and Benjamin Netanyahu, March 28, 2005. (Flash90)

If police do summon Netanyahu for further interrogation, it will be the first time in seven months that Netanyahu will be questioned regarding the probe. During this time, police have remained stoic on the progress of the investigations, offering few hints at any breakthroughs. There have been ongoing media reports, however, of the progress of the investigations.

While investigators have hinted that an indictment against the prime minister is likely, the road to such a scenario is still long and Netanyahu — by law — would still not be forced to resign even if law enforcement decided to take that route.

A police recommendation does not carry legal weight. It is for state prosecutors to decide whether to press charges.

In September, State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan responded to criticism that authorities were dragging their feet in the graft probes against the prime minister. He said that the investigations had been taking longer than police initially anticipated due to unforeseen developments in the cases, though he did not provide any further details.

Last month, Alsheich said that the coming year would be “complicated” in terms of the corruption cases involving Netanyahu and that police have been “leaving no stone unturned” in the investigations.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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