Police defend handling of submarines probe after criticism by ex-defense chief
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Ya'alon: A deliberate effort not to uncover the truth

Police defend handling of submarines probe after criticism by ex-defense chief

Ruling party accuses heads of Labor and Yesh Atid of spreading ‘false accusations’ after they say police corruption case against PM’s confidants show he is unfit to govern

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

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seen at a welcoming ceremony for a new submarine, Rahav, at the Israeli navy base in Haifa, on January 12, 2016. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seen at a welcoming ceremony for a new submarine, Rahav, at the Israeli navy base in Haifa, on January 12, 2016. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

The Israel Police on Sunday defended their probe into alleged corruption in the purchase of naval vessels after a former defense minister implied they sought to prevent publication of details in the case, possible related to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Netanyahu who is not a suspect in the case, has come under fire in recent days from opposition figures who have questioned his assertion he was not aware of alleged criminality by a number of his close associates, including his lawyer.

“We wish to clarify that the investigation was conducted in a thorough and professional manner with the sole purpose of clarifying the truth. The claims that Case 3000 was limited or narrowed by any senior law enforcement officials is a false claim, without any factual basis,” police said in a statement.

The statement came shortly after former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon, who has accused Netanyahu of corruption in relation to the case, wrote a letter to Attorney General Avichai Mandeblit questioning the thoroughness of the investigation.

“The manner in which the investigation was conducted raises tough questions for me of a deliberate effort not to uncover the truth in this affair, which deals with the holy of holies of the state’s security,” Ya’alon wrote.

The Likud party on Thursday hit back at opposition lawmakers who drew a link between Netanyahu and his personal attorney as well as other top aides facing a possible indictment in a conflict-of-interest case involving the $2 billion purchase of German submarines.

Two opposition party chiefs urged the prime minister to resign, and one of them, Zionist Union’s Avi Gabbay, said the allegations against the aides to Netanyahu amounted to “treason.”

“The attempts of the left to pin the ‘submarine affair’ on Prime Minister Netanyahu have collapsed in the face of reality,” the party said in a statement. “We offer our condolences to [Yesh Atid leader Yair] Lapid and [Labor chief Avi] Gabbay, who once again have seen their hopes dashed of replacing Prime Minister Netanyahu by means of false accusations.”

Ya’alon said after the police issued their recommendations, “There was no way that Netanyahu didn’t know.” He claimed that the fact that police were not considering Netanyahu a suspect despite the involvement of his trusted attorney David Shimron raised serious questions about the investigation.

IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkott, then defense minister Moshe Ya’alon, President Reuven Rivlin and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a welcoming ceremony for the new submarine ‘Rahav’ at the Israeli navy base in Haifa, on January 12, 2016. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Earlier on Thursday, police said they had sufficient evidence to charge Shimron with bribery and money laundering offenses for his role in what is thought to be one of the biggest graft schemes in the country’s history.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, and his personal lawyer David Shimron, left. (Flash90)

Shimron, who is also Netanyahu’s cousin, represented the German manufacturer ThyssenKrupp in the sale and has been suspected of trading his influence over the prime minister in return for a hefty cut of the deal.

While Netanyahu was questioned as a witness and not a suspect in the case, opposition lawmakers immediately demanded that the prime minister resign.

In a video posted online, Gabbay said the suspicions against Netanyahu’s confidants amounted to “treason,” and that hundreds of billions of dollars spent purchasing naval vessels unnecessarily should instead have been spent upgrading aging IDF equipment.

Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid heads a party faction meeting at the Knesset on July 16, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

“We could have purchased armored personnel carriers to replace the aging vehicles our soldiers used to enter Gaza four years ago,” he said. “If the prime minister knew about [their] involvement, he must resign. If he didn’t know, he must resign because he’s unfit to lead our defense establishment.”

Lapid also said Netanyahu was unfit to lead the country in light of the case, even if he didn’t know about it.

Zionist Union head Avi Gabbay leads a faction meeting at the Knesset on June 18, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

“Netanyahu owes the public an explanation,” Lapid tweeted. “What else doesn’t he know? How is it possible that those closest to him allegedly took tens of millions of dollars under the table from the sensitive arms deals that [the prime minister] was supposedly handling personally?”

Besides Shimron, police on Thursday said the former chief of Netanyahu’s office, David Sharan, is also suspected of bribery, as is the former head of the navy, Eliezer Marom. IDF Brig. Gen (res.) Shay Brosh, former National Security Council deputy head Brig. Gen (res.) Avriel Bar-Yosef, former minister Eliezer Sandberg were named as suspects over similar offenses.

Police said there was insufficient evidence against another Netanyahu lawyer and longtime associate, Shimron’s law partner Yitzhak Molcho, who had also been linked to the case.

(L-R) Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s personal lawyer David Shimron, his former diplomatic envoy Yitzhak Molcho, his former bureau chief David Sharan, former deputy national security adviser Avriel Bar-Yosef and former commander of the Israeli Navy Eliezer Marom (Flash90)

The police announcement came at the conclusion of the long-running investigation into Israel’s purchase of submarines manufactured by German industrial giant ThyssenKrupp.

A key figure in the case is Miki Ganor, ThyssenKrupp’s Israel representative at the time of the deal, who agreed to turn state’s witness in mid-2017. Ganor is to serve a 12-month prison sentence and be fined 10 million shekels ($2.7 million) for tax offenses as part of his deal with the state, police said.

The police’s findings were handed over to Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, who will decide whether the suspects should be charged. At a legal conference on Haifa on Thursday, Mandelblit declined to give a timeframe for a decision, but called the case “serious” and said the evidence would be examined thoroughly.

Netanyahu did not immediately comment on the findings. Though he himself is not a suspect in the case, police have recommended indicting him for bribery, fraud and breach of trust in separate corruption cases.

Times of Israel staff, agencies contributed to this report.

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