PM’s former special envoy questioned for fifth time in submarine affair

PM’s former special envoy questioned for fifth time in submarine affair

Yitzhak Molcho reportedly tells police he turned down request from state witness Miki Ganor to ‘open doors’ at PM’s office for German shipbuilder

Netanyahu's lawyers and advisers David Shimron (L) and Yitzhak Molcho (R). (Tomer Neuberg/FLASH90 and Michal Fattal/Flash90)
Netanyahu's lawyers and advisers David Shimron (L) and Yitzhak Molcho (R). (Tomer Neuberg/FLASH90 and Michal Fattal/Flash90)

Yitzhak Molcho, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s former chief negotiator and special personal envoy, underwent a marathon session of questioning by the Lahav 433 police anti-corruption unit on Wednesday, in connection with suspected corruption in Israel’s purchase of naval vessels from a German shipbuilding company.

Molcho, who was questioned for the fifth time over the affair, is suspected of fraud and breach of trust for failing to report a conflict of interest in the dealings between his law practice partner, David Shimron, and ThyssenKrupp.

The interrogation is part of a wider police probe into suspicions that state officials were paid bribes to influence a decision to buy submarines and patrol boats from ThyssenKrupp, despite opposition from the Defense Ministry.

Molcho, who denies any connection with the submarine case and has said in the past that whatever he did was solely for the good of the country, told investigators that he had only met ThyssenKrupp’s local Israeli representative, Miki Ganor, once. During that meeting, Ganor talked of his good connections with Germany and asked Molcho to help him “open doors” in the Prime Minister’s office, Hadashot news reported.

Miki Ganor attends a hearing at the Rishon Lezion Magistrate’s Court on July 21, 2017. (Flash90)

Molcho, according to the report, said he replied that he worked mainly with the Americans and the Palestinians and that he could not help with the Europeans.

Ganor, who turned state witness in July, considered a key suspect in the case, and, it is believed, implicated Molcho.

In a complicated web of relationships, Molcho is suspected of having tried to push the submarine deal during diplomatic trips on behalf of the prime minister abroad, while Shimron, Netanyahu’s cousin and personal attorney, sought to promote the interests of ThyssenKrupp within Israel.

Shimron, who has spent years defending Netanyahu against dozens of reports claiming malpractice and misuse of office for personal gain, served as a lawyer for Ganor in the latter’s capacity as ThyssenKrupp’s representative.

On Wednesday, Molcho only left Lahav 433 after spending a full hour going over the transcript of his investigation and signing it, Hadashot said.

Both he and Shimron were questioned several times in November in connection with the affair.

Molcho resigned from his government-related duties in October, a day before the state was set to provide its response to a High Court of Justice petition calling on him to suspend himself over an alleged conflict of interest.

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.

Former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon gives a speech at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, September 15, 2016. (Screenshot)

Moshe Ya’alon, who as defense minister at the time opposed the deal and has announced his intention to challenge Netanyahu, said in June that the submarine affair marked the first time he had considered the prime minister to be corrupt.

“This was the straw that broke the camel’s back with Netanyahu,” Ya’alon said at an event in the southern city of Beersheba. “I had never suspected that he was corrupt. But then he went behind the back of the chief of staff and the head of the navy to sign the deal with (German Chancellor Angela) Merkel, when the whole professional consensus — from the navy to the Defense Ministry — was that we needed five submarines, not six.”

Netanyahu has not been named as a suspect in what is known as Case 3000, though he remains under criminal investigation in two other corruption probes.

Case 1000 revolves around alleged illicit gifts given to Netanyahu and his family by billionaire benefactors, most notably hundreds of thousands of shekels’ worth of cigars and champagne from the Israeli-born Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan. Netanyahu was questioned for the sixth time Sunday at his official residence in Jerusalem in connection with the case.

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.

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