The Justice Ministry on Tuesday refuted a report that said Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit had rejected a police request to summon Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for questioning in the so-called submarine affair.
The report, which appeared in the Hebrew-language Yedioth Ahronoth daily earlier on Tuesday, quoted a police source as saying that the issue of questioning Netanyahu in the investigation of suspected bribery in a deal to purchase naval vessels from a German corporation “has been around almost since the beginning.”
“It seems like just a matter of time before the attorney general approves such a measure,” the law enforcement official was quoted as saying.
But a few hours later, the Justice Ministry released a statement saying, “We wanted to clarify that no such request has been filed on behalf of the police to the attorney general, nor to the state attorney. In this sense, the published story is completely false.”
On Friday, Hadashot TV news said Netanyahu would be asked to give testimony in the coming weeks, adding that he will be questioned generally and then, later, possibly as a suspect.
The Yedioth report also said a state witness in the investigation has alleged that Netanyahu’s personal lawyer and cousin David Shimron sought help from the prime minister in advancing the deal.
The new information came from state witness Miki Ganor, the report said, and could lead to Netanyahu being summoned for the first time for questioning in the investigation. The information was leaked despite authorities having stated in the past that Netanyahu is not a suspect in the case.
The Justice Ministry statement also referred to that portion of the report. “Concerning the rest of the reported details — we advise caution when dealing with publications about the investigation process, which are naturally partial, sometimes biased, and don’t necessarily reflect the reality.”
The investigation, known as Case 3000, is focused on suspicions that state officials were bribed to influence a decision to purchase four patrol boats and three Dolphin-class submarines, at a total cost of 2 billion euros (NIS 8.4 billion), from ThyssenKrupp, despite opposition to the deal from the Defense Ministry.
Police suspect that Yitzchak Molcho, Netanyahu’s chief negotiator and personal envoy for over a decade, tried to push the submarine deal during his diplomatic trips abroad, while Shimron, Molcho’s legal partner, sought to promote the interests of the German shipbuilders within Israel.
Shimron has already been questioned several times as part of the investigation by Lahav 433, the police anti-corruption unit. In addition to his work with Netanyahu, he served as a lawyer for Ganor, who was ThyssenKrupp’s local representative and turned state witness in July. He is considered a key suspect in the case.
According to Tuesday’s report in Yedioth, Ganor told investigators that he had hired Shimron because of his ties to senior government officials, especially Netanyahu. He said Shimron had told him he had involved Netanyahu in the affair.
To maintain secrecy, Ganor and Shimron would speak about the matter using code words, the report said. For instance, Netanyahu was nicknamed “the friend,” while Molcho, who is married to Shimron’s sister, was referred to as “the brother-in-law.”
According to Ganor’s testimony, on one occasion he asked Shimron how his efforts to lobby for the ThyssenKrupp deal with the Defense Ministry were coming along, and requested that he involve Netanyahu. Shimron then replied, “I will ask the brother-in-law, and he’ll speak to the friend,” Ganor reportedly said.
Other evidence held by police reportedly points to a meeting held by Shimron and Netanyahu in the seaside town of Caesarea, where the prime minister’s private residence is located. The two discussed the purchase of the submarines, and Shimron later reported to Ganor about the meeting.
Shimron has categorically denied involving Netanyahu in the affair, while the prime minister’s version of events hasn’t yet been heard.
Netanyahu’s office dismissed the Yedioth report, calling it “another biased leak in an attempt to harm the prime minister.”
Netanyahu has already been questioned several times in two other investigations where he is a suspect, known as cases 1000 and 2000.
In Case 1000, Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, are suspected of receiving illicit gifts from billionaire benefactors, most notably hundreds of thousands of shekels’ worth of cigars and champagne from the Israeli-born Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan.
Case 2000 involves a suspected illicit quid-pro-quo deal between Netanyahu and Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper publisher Arnon Mozes that would have seen the prime minister weaken a rival daily, the Sheldon Adelson-backed Israel Hayom, in return for more favorable coverage from Yedioth.
Netanyahu has denied wrongdoing in both cases.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.