Supreme Court orders state witness in submarines case kept in custody

Judge accepts prosecutors’ appeal against releasing Miki Ganor to house arrest, says his change of testimony marks ‘restart’ of investigation

Miki Ganor attends a hearing at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem on March 22, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Miki Ganor attends a hearing at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem on March 22, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Supreme Court on Friday ordered a state witness in a high-profile corruption case remain in custody after he was arrested following a request to change his testimony.

The ruling came in response to an appeal by prosecutors who sought to reverse a lower court’s decision on Thursday to release Miki Ganor to house arrest. He will now remain in custody at least until Sunday.

Supreme Court Justice Meni Mazuz, who presided over the hearing, said prosecutors’ concerns Ganor could obstruct justice if released were warranted. He said Ganor’s new testimony marked a “restart” of the investigation that requires he be questioned again.

Mazuz also dismissed claims Ganor’s arrest was a “punishment” for changing his testimony.

“And it is good the defendant’s counsel did not repeat this claim in front of me,” Mazus wrote in his decision.

Supreme Court Justice Meni Mazuz at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem on March 22, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Ganor was arrested on Tuesday after informing police of his intention to “change the version he gave during the investigation” into corruption suspicions surrounding the purchase of submarines from Germany’s ThyssenKrupp for Israel’s navy. He said his confessions to bribing multiple officials had been given under duress and were not true.

On Thursday, prosecutors said a plea agreement struck with Ganor last year could be rescinded after he recanted his testimony.

On Friday Channel 12 news reported that Ganor now intends to remain silent during any further questioning.

A Justice Ministry statement said that by amending his testimony to police this week, Ganor has “violated the agreement and therefore the state is entitled to cancel the deal.”

A former agent in Israel for German shipbuilding company Thyssenkrupp, Ganor signed an agreement with prosecutors in July 2017 to cooperate in the probe, which focused on the period he worked for the company between 2009 and 2017. He has admitted to bribing a string of senior officials in order to help secure contracts for Thyssenkrupp with Israel’s Defense Ministry.

Police laid out the details of the case when they concluded the investigation in November 2018 and handed the case to prosecutors with the recommendation that numerous indictments be brought against senior figures in the Israeli defense elite, as well as several close confidants of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Netanyahu was questioned as a witness in the case and was not considered a suspect, though new questions regarding his involvement were raised this week, prompting calls for an investigation.

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)

For Ganor’s role in aiding the police investigation, prosecutors agreed to set aside the major corruption charges against him and settle for a punishment only for his tax offenses in the case. The punishment included a 12-month prison sentence and a fine of NIS 10 million (roughly $2.7 million).

Following his request to change his testimony, the Rishon Lezion Magistrate’s Court agreed on Wednesday that suspicions leveled against Ganor — of obstructing an investigation, bribery, fraud and money laundering — should be re-investigated in light of his new version of events.

His change of heart came shortly after reports emerged that Netanyahu had sold stock in a company that supplied services to Thyssenkrupp.

Netanyahu has called allegations of impropriety on his part “contrived slander,” saying he “didn’t get a shekel from the submarine deal” and that the matter was “checked extensively by the prosecution and the attorney general, who stated unequivocally that I am not suspected of anything.”

On Wednesday, channels 12 and 13 reported state prosecutors were considering opening a criminal investigation into Netanyahu’s business connections to the multi-billion-shekel naval vessel procurement deal.

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

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

Having previously claimed he obtained the shares as a private citizen, Netanyahu has appeared to change his story, admitting he became a shareholder in 2007 while serving as the leader of the opposition, the Haaretz newspaper reported Monday. He sold his shares to Milikowsky in 2010, after he was elected prime minister, according to the Marker website.

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

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