Officials at the Prime Minister’s Office are expected to probe allegations that former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered staffers to shred documents at the office before he handed power to successor Naftali Bennett on June 13, a report said Saturday.
According to the Haaretz newspaper, the probe will be an initial examination of the allegations and not an official investigation.
However, the report said that a formal investigation could be opened if deemed necessary and could be held under the auspices of an external body such as the Defense Ministry or the Shin Bet internal security service.
Last week, Haaretz reported that aides in the PMO had shredded some documents that had been stored in safes in a part of the office where Netanyahu and other top officials had desks, at the behest of the Likud leader. The alleged act took place hours before the Knesset voted to install a new government headed by Bennett, removing Netanyahu from power after 12 years.
Netanyahu’s Likud party has denied the shredding allegations as “totally false,” saying in a tweet that the claims are “absurd” and that all documents have been preserved digitally.
“The media which always attacked us by claiming that it is its job to criticize the government is now working to give the regime a pass and attack the opposition with false and ridiculous claims,” the party said in a tweet, which was shared by Netanyahu.
It’s not known what documents were allegedly shredded or how many, though according to Haaretz, the safes they were stored in usually held documents relating to officials’ schedules, routine government work and more.
Yaakov Lozowick, who was the state’s chief archivist from 2011 to 2018, told Army Radio Friday that if the materials were shredded, there may not have been a digital copy.
“If they are shredding documents in the prime minister’s bureau, it would seem it’s not information that other people have, so it stands to reason that we’re talking about the most sensitive materials,” he said.
In response to the reports, the incoming head of the Knesset’s Constitution Law and Justice Committee, Labor MK Gilad Kariv, said the alleged shredding would not only be illegal but a “total deviation from standard operating procedures.”
“These actions represent a blow to government continuity and could stymie the orderly and proper transfer of power from one government to the next,” Kariv wrote to Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, requesting he open a probe into the allegations. “This matter demands a swift and fundamental investigation as it touches on the heart of democratic life … and no less so also matters of national security.”
Kariv also asked Mandelblit to issue clear guidelines to government staff on prohibitions against destroying official documents.
Meretz MK Yair Golan also urged a probe into the shredding claims Friday, calling on the police chief and head of the Shin Bet to look into the possibility that it involved tampering with incriminating evidence. Golan was likely referring to the submarine scandal, known as Case 3000. in which several people with ties to Netanyahu have been accused of taking bribes to help facilitate a massive naval contract.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz ordered a fresh probe of the scandal on Saturday night, after his previous attempt to launch an inquiry was called off by the attorney general to avoid a conflict with his own criminal investigation of the matter.
Netanyahu is not a suspect in the case, but several lawmakers — including Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, who is set to become prime minister in 2023 — have called for Netanyahu’s possible role in the affair to be examined. Netanyahu is also on trial in three criminal cases related to his time as head of government.