State tells High Court there’s no need to probe Netanyahu on submarines, shares

Responding to petitions against decision to close cases, justice officials say evidence does not support opening of criminal investigations into the affairs

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit attends an event at the Dan Hotel in Jerusalem, on February 6, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit attends an event at the Dan Hotel in Jerusalem, on February 6, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The state prosecution told the High Court of Justice on Sunday that it believes there is no justification to open a criminal probe into Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over his stock trades or the so-called submarine affair.

Justice officials were responding to a petition filed with the court by the Movement for Quality Government in Israel (MQG), after Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit announced last week that he would close the cases.

“The conclusions of all bodies involved in the investigation and its oversight have been that the evidence has not produced a reasonable suspicion that justifies a criminal probe of the prime minister,” the prosecution’s statement said.

MQG said in a statement that the state’s response was lackluster. “We are certain that the court will examine the facts and brighten the clouds hovering over [the cases].”

The so-called stock affair pertains to allegations that Netanyahu illicitly profited by several million dollars from selling shares in a company to his cousin Nathan Milikowsky. Mandelblit’s office had been looking into the allegations for nearly a year and a half, after TV reports claimed Netanyahu made a suspicious return of over 700 percent on stocks he held in Seadrift Coke.

Mandelblit acknowledged Thursday that the premier may have received significant benefits from his cousin in the affair, but said it was not clear he did so knowingly.

A High Court of Justice hearing at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem on May 4, 2020. (Abir Sultan/ Pool/AFP)

He also noted that the statute of limitations had long expired for the potential suspicions of fraud and breach of trust in the 2007 case.

Netanyahu purchased the shares in Texas-based SeaDrift Coke in 2007 for $400,000, before selling them in 2010 for $4.3 million — an over sevenfold increase, Channel 12 news reported. Netanyahu has insisted that he received no favors from his cousin in the affair.

According to a media reports, prosecutors suspected Netanyahu misled the State Comptroller’s Office on his financial assets.

Seadrift Coke produces needle coke used for manufacturing graphite electrodes. After Netanyahu bought the shares the company was acquired by a conglomerate in the same field, GrafTech International, a longtime supplier of Germany’s ThyssenKrupp shipbuilding company.

Thysennkrupp is at the center of another corruption probe, the high-profile Case 3000. The case, nicknamed “the submarine affair,” snared several close associates of Netanyahu, but not the premier himself, on suspicion that they received bribes as part of a massive graft scheme in the multi-billion-shekel state purchase of naval vessels from the German shipbuilder.

The scandal also involves the sale of two Dolphin-class submarines and two anti-submarine warships by Germany to Egypt, allegedly approved by Netanyahu, without consulting or notifying the Defense Ministry.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wears a face mask to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus as he opens the weekly cabinet meeting, at the foreign ministry, in Jerusalem, July 5, 2020. (Gali Tibbon/AP)

Netanyahu’s political opponents have accused the premier of a possible conflict of interest in the ThyssenKrupp affair, and have alleged he may have benefited financially from it. Netanyahu’s ruling Likud party suggested the reports were politically motivated.

Mandelblit said Thursday he would not reappraise Netanyahu’s role in the affair, even after a former Defense Ministry director’s affidavit, apparently tying Netanyahu to the case, was leaked.

Dan Harel was quoted as saying: “Netanyahu told me and [former defense minister Moshe] Ya’alon very resolutely that he wants another, seventh, submarine to be purchased, while banging with his fist on the table. My impression was that behind this purchase initiative was an interest that was unclear to me, to broaden the connection with Thyssenkrup and increase the value for the company in an unjustified way. That impression became stronger due to the article referring to the purchase of two anti-submarine vessels.”

Mandelblit said that “the claims present behavior that is not in line with the… standards of a public office dealing with such an important issue for the national interests of the State of Israel.

“But it appears that as of now, there are gaps on important issues to build a thesis of criminality — these gaps can’t be filled in this case with assumptions, guesses and general statements.”

Mandelblit concluded his 13-page decision by noting that “should new material arise justifying a new check in the future, the appropriate action will be taken.”

The prime minister is currently on trial for fraud and breach of trust in three other cases, and bribery in one of them. He denies any wrongdoing, and claims to be victim of an attempted political coup involving the police, state prosecutors under Mandelblit’s authority, left-wing opposition and the media.

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