Police descended on the Defense Ministry Sunday to gather information relating to a ship-building contract with Germany as part of a probe into how negotiations for multi-billion shekel naval deals were handled, Israeli TV reported.
The deals for patrol boats and submarines have come under intense scrutiny after it emerged that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s personal lawyer, David Shimron, also served in an advisory capacity for ThyssenKrupp, the German shipbuilder awarded the contracts.
Officers from the Lahav 433 police anti-corruption unit entered the office of legal adviser Ahaz Ben-Ari at the Defense Ministry building in Tel Aviv and removed information from computers there, Channel 10 reported. The data concerned the cancellation of an international tender to build four new warships to protect Israel’s offshore natural gas rigs in the Mediterranean Sea.
The contract was awarded instead to ThyssenKrupp. Under the 2015 deal, worth €430 million ($480 million), ThyssenKrupp is to supply Israel with four “Sa’ar 6 corvette” ships over a period of five years.
Questions have surfaced as to why the tender for offers to build the ships for the rigs was withdrawn.
Shimron has claimed that he “wasn’t in touch with any state official over the issue of Israel’s purchase of naval vessels” and said that his work for the German company while also serving as the prime minister’s lawyer did not constitute a conflict of interest, according to the Haaretz daily.
However, after Israel issued the initial tender in 2014 for the purchase of the ships, Shimron called Ben-Ari, the Defense Minister legal adviser, to inquire why the tender was issued, allegedly saying he wanted the contract to be given to ThyssenKrupp directly.
According to a Channel 10 report in November, Shimron never mentioned to Ben-Ari at any point during the phone call that he had a financial interest in ThyssenKrupp receiving the contract.
Shimron denied the story, saying he “never complained about the issuance of a tender.”
He said at the time that he had merely “turned to the Defense Ministry’s legal adviser with a question. I’m permitted to do that under my conflict of interest agreement, and in this case, my call was strictly a question.”
Channel 10 further reported that Netanyahu had also asked the Defense Ministry why the contract was opened for competitive bidding, and pressured the ministry to cancel the tender, which eventually happened.
Last month opposition parties said they would seek a special parliamentary inquiry into an alleged conflict of interest in another contract to purchase new submarines from the German shipbuilder.
That deal would allegedly give Shimron a stake in the NIS 6 billion ($1.5 billion) defense contract. Part of the agreement could also see ThyssenKrupp construct a lucrative shipyard in Israel where it would maintain the subs.