The personal attorney of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with Israeli officials to lobby for German shipbuilder ThyssenKrupp despite his previous denials, Hebrew language media reported Monday, as a scandal over the possible conflict of interest continued to widen.
David Shimron is suspected of using his close relationship to Netanyahu to push Israel to purchase several submarines from the German firm, as well as to allow the company to build a shipyard here, taking maintenance of the vessels out of the hands of the Israeli navy.
A week ago, Shimron 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 Germany company while also serving as the Prime Minister’s lawyer did not constitute a conflict of interest, according to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.
However, after Israel had issued an international tender for boats needed to protect Israel’s gas fields in the Mediterranean in 2014, Shimron called the legal adviser of the Defense Ministry, Ahaz Ben-Ari, to inquire why a tender was issued, as he wanted the contract to be given to ThyssenKrupp without any competitive bidding.
According to Channel 10, Shimron never mentioned to Ben-Ari at any point during the phone call that he was representing ThyssenKrupp.
Hebrew language media said Shimron had been hired by ThyssenKrupp’s exclusive representative in Israel, businessman Michael Ganor.
However, the German company denied that Ganor had Thyssenkrupp’s approval to hire Shimron.
“Our sales partners are contractually obligated to consult with Thyssenkrupp Marine Systems before engaging sub-contractors. This has not happened,” the company told the Times of Israel, adding that it had no further information on the issue.
“We do what we always do as part of our process, if we get indications of irregularities: We fully check and clarify the facts,” Thyssenkrupp said.
Following the release of Channel 10’s report, Shimron denied the story, saying that “I never complained about the issuance of a tender.” He said that he 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 reported that Netanyahu also questioned why the contract for the boats was open for competitive bidding, and pressured the Defense Ministry to cancel the tender, which eventually happened.
Netanyahu has denied any wrongdoing in the multi-billion shekel deal for the submarines, saying that bolstering Israel’s long-term security needs was the “only consideration” behind the purchases.
On Sunday, the attorney general announced there was no evidence for a criminal investigation, but said a probe into possible other issues regarding the deal would continue.
Opposition lawmakers have vowed to push for a parliamentary inquiry into the affair.
The Channel 10 report also indicated that the submarine deal may have been wrapped up in supicions which recently surfaced against former IDF navy officer and candidate for national security adviser Avriel Bar-Yosef.
Bar-Yosef was recently questioned by police on suspicion of bribery, money laundering, fraud and breach of trust for pushing the business interests of German acquaintances who had an interest in the development of Israel’s offshore natural gas reserves.
According to Channel 10, Bar-Yosef met with the head of th Haifa port, Mendi Zaltzman, along with senior Israeli Navy and Miki Ganor, ThyssenKrupp’s representative in Israel. They sought to convince Zaltzman to allocate part of the port for the future maintenance of the submarines by ThyssenKrupp rather than by the Israeli Navy, a move backed by both Shimron and Ganor.
The IDF spokesperson said that the military still does not know which officers participated in the meeting.
On Monday, the Hebrew-language daily Yedioth Ahronoth reported that the head of the IDF’s civilian workers organization, Moshe Friedman, claimed that senior figures in the navy deliberately provoked the workforce that maintains Israel’s submarine fleet into declaring an industrial dispute, as part of an effort to have the German shipbuilder awarded the lucrative maintenance work instead.
In August, Friedman and the chairman of the Histadrut labor federation, Avi Nissenkorn, met with Shimron and Ganor. During the meeting, a proposal was presented, Friedman said, for the German firm to take over the maintenance work, in Israel, from the navy.
Attempts to persuade the Histadrut to agree to give the work to a new German-operated shipyard were accompanied by “harsh statements in an attempt to smear the dock workers,” Friedman wrote, while stressing that Israeli shipyard workers have never halted maintenance work on submarines.
Stuart Winer contributed to this report.