Netanyahu testified in submarine affair, but ‘no suspicions arose’ for probing him

As head of investigation gives court testimony, documents reveal PM was witness at state commision of inquiry into naval corruption case; panel’s work continuing

File: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (2nd L), then-president Reuven Rivlin (3rd L), and then-defence minister Moshe Yaalon (2nd R) attend a ceremony for the arrival of the German-made INS Rahav, the fifth Israeli Navy submarine, at the military port of Haifa on January 12, 2016. (JACK GUEZ / AFP)
File: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (2nd L), then-president Reuven Rivlin (3rd L), and then-defence minister Moshe Yaalon (2nd R) attend a ceremony for the arrival of the German-made INS Rahav, the fifth Israeli Navy submarine, at the military port of Haifa on January 12, 2016. (JACK GUEZ / AFP)

The police officer who led the investigation into the so-called submarine affair corruption case testified Thursday in court that “at no stage did suspicions arise that justified investigating the prime minister,” Benjamin Netanyahu, in the case.

Deputy Commissioner Motti Levy was testifying in the Tel Aviv District Court as part of the ongoing judicial process in the trial of Miki Ganor, a key suspect in the case.

Also Thursday, the state commission of inquiry into the submarine affair published documents related to its ongoing investigation, revealing that Netanyahu was among several people who gave testimony to the panel.

Netanyahu’s name was listed among the names of witnesses and those who were interviewed by the commission. Other individuals questioned included former military generals and former national security advisers.

Israel purchased the vessels from German shipbuilder Thyssenkrupp in a $2 billion deal that has been under scrutiny for alleged corruption and bribery. Netanyahu was questioned by police in connection with the deal and several of his close associates were indicted for their involvement in the negotiations.

The commission was set up under the previous government of Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennett and was tasked with evaluating the procedures and decision-making employed by the political echelon related to the sensitive procurement.

Thursday’s publication also noted the committee was examining thousands of documents related to the case.

Israeli businessman Miki Ganor, arrested in the submarine affair also known as ‘Case 3000,’ is brought for a court hearing at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem on March 22, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A state commission of inquiry is the most serious type of Knesset commission. Imbued with broad powers to call witnesses and compel testimony, it runs a quasi-judicial process that can result in recommendations for further action against both individuals and public sector bodies.

The state prosecution has decided against opening a criminal probe into Netanyahu’s involvement in the affair, and former attorney general Avichai Mandelblit said he was not suspected of wrongdoing.

Netanyahu is currently on trial in three other graft cases.

The investigation into the submarine affair began in 2017, several years after the alleged misdeeds took place, and was led by the National Unit for Economic Crime of the Lahav 433 serious crimes police department.

The case involves allegations of graft surrounding massive defense contracts with the German industrial and ship-building conglomerate Thyssenkrupp for the acquisition of several naval vessels.

Ganor, once Thyssenkrupp’s representative in Israel, is suspected of bribing top officials to advance his and the company’s interests in Israel.

The INS Tekuma Dolphin-class submarine is escorted by Saar 5 and 4.5 Class Corvettes during a drill in the Red Sea, June 2, 2022. (Israel Defense Forces)

Levy’s statements about Netanyahu during his Thursday testimony came in response to claims by Ganor’s defense of inappropriate police conduct during their investigations. Police must receive the attorney general’s express permission to investigate suspicions against a sitting prime minister — which cops did not do in this case.

“We asked suspects about the prime minister. This does not require approval from the attorney general,” Levy told the court. “We were investigating a case of corruption in defense acquisitions. When you investigate corruption [in that area], naturally the prime minister has responsibility for the purchases.”

He added: “If there had been a suspicion, we would have halted the probe and sought the relevant authorizations.

“We took all necessary precautions. The investigation was done in cooperation with the state prosecution, we had discussions with the state attorney and the attorney general… Ganor said he’d recruited people to get to the prime minister — that was the purpose of his actions.

“When you understand the purpose, you have to ask questions about it. The objective of the investigation is to reach the truth, but we came to the conclusion that the prime minister was not a suspect in the case — and we said so throughout.”

Activists call for the opening of a committee of inquiry in the so-called submarine affair, outside the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on January 23, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

While the commission was established last January, a few months later the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee amended the decision so that the committee’s deliberations would generally be made public unless the panel determined that classified matters relating to state security and foreign relations were under discussion.

Despite that decision, the panel has conducted itself nearly entirely behind closed doors so far, and journalists have not been invited to cover the proceedings.

Several close associates of Netanyahu were implicated in the scandal, as well as high-ranking military officials, but not the former prime minister himself.

File: An Israeli Navy submarine sails in front of a Sa’ar 5-class corvette in the waters south of Tel Aviv as part of the Israeli Navy’s flotilla in honor of Israel’s 70th Independence Day on April 19, 2018. (Judah Ari Gross/Times of Israel)

In 2021, indictments were filed at the Tel Aviv District Court for a variety of charges including bribery, money laundering, fraud, breach of trust and tax offenses against several suspects.

Among them were Ganor, Netanyahu’s former chief of staff David Sharan and former deputy National Security Committee head Avriel Bar-Yosef, among others.

Cases were closed against David Shimron, a cousin and former personal lawyer to Netanyahu, as well as former commander of the Israeli Navy Eliezer Marom.

The cases are ongoing.

Tal Schneider contributed to this report.

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