Acting State Attorney Dan Eldad on Thursday announced a criminal probe into a cybersecurity firm that was headed by Blue and White party chief Benny Gantz before it went bankrupt, but a statement from Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit indicated Gantz is not a suspect in the case.
Mandelblit’s office on Thursday gave the green light to the State Attorney’s Office to proceed as it sees fit in the probe into the company, Fifth Dimension, but said that Mandelblit himself was not involved in the case.
The statement implies that Gantz is not considered a potential suspect, as Mandelblit would have to be involved in the case if he were.
A letter from an aide to Mandelblit said Eldad had looked into the files related to Fifth Dimension and heard the opinions of relevant officials in the State Attorney’s Office.
“The attorney general agreed with the acting state prosecutor that if any suspicions arise in the future different from those today that justify the involvement of the attorney general, they will be brought before him for his instruction and decision,” the letter stated.
Following the release of the letter, Eldad announced the criminal probe into the firm.
In the first stage of the investigation, only company officials will be questioned, according to Eldad’s instructions. Then, if it is deemed necessary to investigate police officers, the case will be transferred to the Justice Ministry’s Police Internal Investigations Department, according to Channel 12.
The Lahav 433 police anti-corruption unit would be involved in the case, Walla news reported.
Blue and White officials accused Eldad and Justice Minister Amir Ohana, an ally of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, of leaking reports of the investigation, according to Channel 12. Ohana recently appointed Eldad to the position in a move that angered other top justice officials.
Gantz denied any wrongdoing after media reports Wednesday said a probe would be launched into an allegedly shady deal between Fifth Dimension and the Israel Police.
While Gantz has not been named as a suspect in the affair, the development comes less than two weeks before national elections and during a campaign by Gantz’s party that has tried to focus attention on Netanyahu’s indictment for corruption charges.
“It all sounds like political pressure to get this thing on the public agenda,” Gantz told Army Radio Thursday. “I am totally at ease. This was checked in the past and no criminal suspicion was found.”
Later in the day, after the criminal investigation was announced, Gantz said he had “a lot of confidence in law enforcement and have no problem with any probe they want to do. To me, there are no criminal elements in this matter.”
Speaking during a campaign rally, he accused Netanyahu’s Likud party of pushing for the probe to distract from the premier’s corruption trial, which will begin next month.
Netanyahu, in a response to the decision to open a criminal investigation, issued a brief statement saying, “The public must know the truth, here and now, and before the elections.”
Israel goes to the polls on March 2, the third national vote in less than a year after two elections in 2019 ended inconclusively, with neither Netanyahu or Gantz able to forge a coalition government. Pre-election surveys have predicted similar results in next month’s vote, potentially extending the deadlock.
It’s not clear if the reports over the affair will move the needle in any way. The months leading up to the campaign have been marked by other bombshells, including the unveiling of US President Donald Trump’s Mideast plan and the setting of a date for the beginning of Netanyahu’s corruption trial, which have not dramatically affected opinion polls.
But it is an embarrassment for Gantz, a former military chief, who has made ousting Netanyahu his main message and has sought to present a squeaky clean image in the face of the long-serving premier’s graft charges.
After retiring from the army, Gantz headed Fifth Dimension, a cybersecurity company that entered talks with police over the sale of its product. According to the state comptroller, a governmental watchdog, the police may have violated acquisition laws by forgoing a tender in its dealings with the company.
According to an unsourced report by Channel 13 Wednesday, the probe will look at elements within Fifth Dimension that allegedly made misrepresentations to the police, and will examine whether the relationship falls under the legal category of “obtaining something by fraud.”
Several former police brass were among the executives at Fifth Dimension.
The probe was reportedly expected to begin sometime after the March 2 elections. Unnamed Likud officials questioned the timing, according to Channel 12, angry that the investigation was being delayed until after Israelis go to the polls. But unnamed legal experts told the network that the decision to potentially open an investigation was made some four weeks before the election, when an announcement of a probe could be construed as political interference.
Netanyahu has been charged with bribery, breach of trust and fraud in three cases in which he is accused of receiving lavish gifts from billionaire friends and of exchanging regulatory favors with media moguls for more palatable media coverage of him and his family.
Netanyahu denies wrongdoing and claims the charges have been trumped up by a hostile justice system, police and media out to get him.
His trial is set to begin on March 17.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.