State prosecutors said mulling criminal probe of Netanyahu in submarine case

Sources tell Channel 13 officials have received ‘dramatic’ new information; PM’s Likud party suggests leaks to TV news are politically motivated

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, seen at a welcoming ceremony for a new submarine, Rahav, at the Israeli navy base in Haifa, on January 12, 2016. (Kobi Gideon/ GPO /File)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, seen at a welcoming ceremony for a new submarine, Rahav, at the Israeli navy base in Haifa, on January 12, 2016. (Kobi Gideon/ GPO /File)

State prosecutors are considering opening a criminal investigation into Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s business connections to a multi-billion shekel naval vessel procurement deal which is already at the center of a major graft investigation, Channel 12 and Channel 13 reported Wednesday.

Citing sources familiar with the case, the Channel 13 report said prosecutors recently received “dramatic” new information which prompted a review of the issue.

The high-profile Case 3000 investigation has snared several close associates of Netanyahu, but not the premier himself, on suspicion that they received illicit funds as part of a massive graft scheme in the multi-billion-shekel state purchase of naval vessels and submarines from German shipbuilder Thyssenkrupp.

According to a Channel 13 report last week, the State Comptroller’s Office recently found that Netanyahu and his cousin Nathan Milikowsky were shareholders in SeaDrift Coke, later absorbed into GrafTech International — a graphite electrodes manufacturing company and a longtime supplier of Thyssenkrupp.

According to the report, Netanyahu did not disclose his holdings in GrafTech, which he had acquired when he was not prime minister. Netanyahu sold his shares to his cousin after he was elected prime minister in 2009, he said.

Netanyahu’s political opponents have accused the premier of a possible conflict of interest in the Thyssenkrupp deal, and have alleged he may have benefited financially from it.

Benjamin Netanyahu touring the INS Tanin submarine, built by the German firm ThyssenKrupp, as it arrived in Israel on September 23, 2014. (Kobi Gideon/GPO/Flash90)

Responding to the reports that an investigation may be opened into the prime minister, Netanyahu’s ruling Likud party suggested they were politically motivated and intended to harm Netanyahu’s chances of reelection.

“Twenty days before the elections there is a leak about an attempt for another investigation against prime minister Netanyahu,” the party said in a statement. “Only the citizens of Israel will choose the prime minister.”

Netanyahu has called allegations of impropriety on his part in Israel’s submarine deals with Germany “contrived slander.”

“I didn’t get a shekel from the submarine deal,” the premier told local authority leaders in the West Bank settlement of Shiloh on Tuesday.

“This was checked extensively by the prosecution and the attorney general,” Netanyahu added. “They stated unequivocally that I am not suspected of anything.”

Netanyahu is facing indictments, pending a hearing, in three other corruption cases. He has denied any wrongdoing in those cases.

On Monday the Blue and White party’s top echelon accused Netanyahu of being implicated in “the greatest security-related corruption case in the history of the State of Israel.”

Blue and White leader Benny Gantz said if he wins the election, Blue and White will establish a parliamentary commission of inquiry into Netanyahu’s ties to the case.

David Shimron, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s personal lawyer, at a Likud press conference in Tel Aviv, February 1, 2015. (Flash90)

In addition to Milikowsky’s involvement, the investigation has already seen police recommend bribery charges against another cousin of Netanyahu, his long-term attorney David Shimron, his former bureau chief David Sharan, his former pick for National Security adviser Avriel Bar-Yosef, former head of the navy Eliezer Marom and former minister Eliezer Sandberg. Netanyahu has been interviewed as a witness in the case, but was not a suspect.

Shimron represented Thyssenkrupp in the sale and is suspected of trading his influence over the prime minister in return for a hefty cut of the deal. Police believe he pushed for a NIS 6 billion ($1.5 billion) defense contract to purchase submarines for the Israeli Navy and other vessels to protect the country’s offshore natural gas fields.

Much of the case is based on the testimony of state’s witness Miki Ganor, who was Thyssenkrupp’s Israel agent. Ganor has admitted to bribing a string of senior officials in order to help secure contracts for the company. In a surprise development Ganor on Tuesday told police he was retracting his testimony, saying he had not bribed anyone. He has been placed under arrest and prosecutors are considering their actions.

Miki Ganor, arrested in the submarine affair known as case 3000, is brought for a court hearing at the Magistrate’s Court in Rishon Lezion, July 21, 2017. (FLASH90)

Last month, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit announced his intention to indict Netanyahu on charges of fraud and breach of trust in three separate cases, 1000, 2000 and 4000, and for bribery in the last of the three. The prime minister denies the allegations and says the cases are part of a political witch hunt designed to oust him, involving the left, the media and the police pressuring a weak attorney general.

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