Police: Netanyahu’s attacks are unfounded; fourth probe possible

Police: Netanyahu’s attacks are unfounded; fourth probe possible

Senior officer tells TV news that though PM has sought to harm force, he will get fair treatment if additional case opened; premier accuses cops of making threats

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, wearing a protective face mask, in the courtroom at the District Court of Jerusalem on May 24, 2020, at the start of his corruption trial. (Ronen Zvulun / POOL / AFP)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, wearing a protective face mask, in the courtroom at the District Court of Jerusalem on May 24, 2020, at the start of his corruption trial. (Ronen Zvulun / POOL / AFP)

A senior police official on Monday defended the force against accusations by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that cops had conspired with others to fabricate the corruption cases that led to him being put on trial, saying the remarks are unfounded.

The officer, who spoke anonymously to Channel 12 news, further said that if another investigation is opened into Netanyahu regarding a share purchase linked to a major corruption scandal, the prime minister would not “be cut any slack.”

Netanyahu on Sunday became the first sitting Israeli prime minister to go on trial when the Jerusalem District Court opened proceedings in the three corruption cases against him. He faces charges of fraud and breach of trust in all three cases, as well as bribery in one of them. He denies any wrongdoing.

Before entering the courtroom, Netanyahu gave a statement to media in which he ripped into police, prosecutors and the media, alleging an “attempted political coup.” He described the cases against him as “fabricated” and declared that all his right-wing supporters were in fact on trial along with him.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a statement before entering a courtroom at the Jerusalem District Court on May 24, 2020, for the start of his corruption trial. Among those alongside him from left are Likud MKs and ministers Gadi Yevarkan, Amir Ohana, Miri Regev, Nir Barkat, Israel Katz, Tzachi Hanegbi, Yoav Gallant and David Amsalem (Yonathan SINDEL / POOL / AFP)

Speaking to Channel 12, the senior officer described Netanyahu’s remarks as “unfounded and saying more about him than about the investigators and prosecutors.”

“There has never been a prime minister who tried so much to goad and to so blatantly harm the law enforcement system,” the officer said.

Police investigators ignored all attempts to pressure them in the prime minister’s cases and “that is how they will act as well if the attorney general decides on an additional investigation against Netanyahu in his shares case,” the officer said, referring to business dealings by Netanyahu that the State Prosecutor’s Office last year was reportedly considering probing.

“We will receive him respectfully, but just as in his previous investigations, the prime minister will not be cut any slack,” the officer said.

A response on behalf of Netanyahu accused police of threatening the prime minister and using “extortion.”

“The anonymous threats by police investigators to open another futile investigation against the prime minister… is an attempt to silence none other than the prime minister of Israel,” the statement said. “These threats are a clear example of the sickness that must be corrected in order to secure Israel’s democracy.”

According to the television report, police have not given an official response to Netanyahu’s accusations as the force is still led by an acting commissioner, Motti Cohen, who is waiting to learn if he will given the job permanently.

Public Security Minister Amir Ohana arrives at the Jerusalem District Court to show his support for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the opening of his corruption trial, May 24, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Public Security Minister Amir Ohana on Tuesday ordered Cohen to uncover the identity of the officer who gave the interview using “any means” appropriate.

In a letter describing the officer as “a coward who hid behind a bit of anonymity,” Ohana wrote that “a source such as this, who threatens the prime minister of Israel, seriously harms the image of the Israel Police, its status and its prestige in the eyes of the public, even though the vast majority of police officers don’t behave that way.”

“‘Senior police officials who give briefings against elected officials send a bad message not just to the public but also to lower-ranked police officers whereby this disorganized corporate culture is normal, and thus helps to entrench, rather than uproot, it.”

Ohana, whose ministry oversees the police force, instructed Cohen to use “all means that you find fit for this purpose” to uncover the source including the use of lie detectors and tracing of phone calls. Such action, he wrote, will send a clear message that “you are not prepared to quietly accept such behavior by senior police officials.”

Ohana, a close Netanyahu ally, served as justice minister since June 2019 until last week. During his tenure, he repeatedly criticized the justice system and those leading it as they pushed ahead with the criminal investigations, and eventual indictment, of the premier.

Netanyahu at the court had blasted the police who led the probes into him, saying officers made up claims that he had sent private sleuths to track investigators and that he had prompted a female officer to complain of sexual harassment against the head of the anti-corruption unit.

“These investigations were corrupted and fabricated from the start,” he said.

Acting Chief of Police Motti Cohen at the annual Justice conference in Airport City, outside Tel Aviv on September 3, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

In March 2019 Channel 13 news reported that the State Prosecutor’s Office was planning to investigate Netanyahu’s business dealings following reports that he made a return of over 700 percent on stocks he had held in a firm tied to a high-profile corruption case.

The report said the investigation would solely examine the business aspects, as investigators apparently believe there were no connections at all between the shares and the so-called submarine scandal.

At the heart of the reportedly planned investigation is Netanyahu’s purchase of the shares in Texas-based SeaDrift Coke in 2007 for $400,000, and his selling them in 2010 for $4.3 million to his cousin, US businessman Nathan Milikowsky.

In addition to that deal, Channel 13 said, investigators want to examine the functioning of a blind trust that Netanyahu was supposed to have set up to handle his business affairs when he took office, probe if he misled the State Comptroller’s Office on his financial assets, and check if he paid taxes on the deal.

It also said that Netanyahu could be liable for taxes in the US over the deal.

Netanyahu’s political opponents have sought to link the stock deal to the submarine scandal.

In November 2010, SeaDrift, which produces needle coke used for manufacturing graphite electrodes, was acquired by a conglomerate in the same field, GrafTech International, a longtime supplier of Germany’s Thyssenkrupp, which manufactures Israel’s submarines.

Thyssenkrupp is the company at the center of the submarine case, also known as Case 3000. The probe has ensnared several close associates of Netanyahu, but not the premier himself, on suspicion that they received bribes as part of a massive graft scheme in the multi-billion-shekel state purchase of naval vessels and submarines from Thyssenkrupp. Some have called it the largest suspected graft scandal in the country’s history.

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