It sometimes seems that for as long as he’s been in office, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been under investigation for something or other. Never before, though, has he been this close to an indictment.
On Friday, a former Netanyahu aide signed an agreement to serve as state's witness in two corruption cases involving the prime minister. In exchange for testifying against Netanyahu, American-born Ari Harow, the prime minister’s former chief of staff, will avoid jail time in a separate case.
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A day earlier, police confirmed that Netanyahu is suspected of bribery, fraud and breach of trust in two cases – one involving allegations that the prime minister and his family received gifts from wealthy benefactors and another involving allegations that he tried to cut a deal that would have provided him with favorable coverage in one of Israel’s largest newspapers. The prime minister’s bureau has responded that the allegations are all “unfounded.”
It is widely assumed that Harrow would not have been offered a state's witness deal if police didn’t think he had valuable information to help strengthen their cases against Netanyahu. In 2009, Harow served as Netanyahu’s bureau chief for a year. He returned in 2014 to serve as the prime minister’s chief of staff. A year later, he was arrested by the national fraud squad on suspicions that he was maintaining a private lobbying business while serving in public office.
Under the state witness deal signed Friday, Harow will be convicted of fraud and breach of trust but will avoid jail time. Instead, he will perform community service and pay a 700,000 shekel ($193,000) fine.
Responding to the latest developments in the investigations against him in a Facebook video post on Friday, Netanyahu said, “I want to tell the citizens of Israel: I do not address background noises and I will continue to serve you."
These are not the only investigations that could threaten Netanyahu’s extended reign of power. Here is a review of recent development in four separate corruption cases – dubbed “Case 1000,” “Case 2000,” “Case 3000,” and “Case 4000” – that could potentially bring him down.
This investigation involves allegations that Netanyahu, his wife Sara and their son Yair received lavish gifts from two wealthy businessman: Israeli-born Hollywood mogul Arnon Milchan and Australian billionaire James Packer. Netanyahu and his wife Sara allegedly received regular shipments of expensive cigars and champagne, worth hundreds of thousands of shekels, from Milchan. It has also been reported that Milchan bought Netanyahu’s wife an expensive piece of jewelry.
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Netanyahu has insisted these gifts were nothing more than tokens of friendship and no favors were provided to Milchan in return. Packer has allegedly lavished gifts on Netanyahu’s son Yair, including free flights and hotel rooms. Netanyahu, his wife and son – along along with Milchan and Packer – have all already been questioned by police in the case. Netanyahu was named a suspect on Thursday.
This probe involves allegations that Netanyahu tried to strike a deal that would have provided him with positive coverage in Israel’s second largest newspaper in exchange for hurting its freebie rival. The deal would have cut the circulation potential of Israel Hayom, a pro-Netanyahu newspaper founded and financed by casino magnate Sheldon Adelson. Since it was founded, Israel Hayom has replaced Yedioth Ahronoth as the country’s largest circulating newspaper.
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Yedioth Ahronoth, unlike Israel Hayom, has long been critical of Netanyahu. Some of the conversations between Netanyahu and Mozes were recorded on Harow’s smartphone, which was confiscated by police while they were investigating the other case against him. Harow is believed to have been intensely involved in the negotiations between Netanyahu and Mozes. His agreement to testify against Netanyahu, therefore, greatly strengthens the possibility of an indictment in this case.
Netanyahu has long claimed that he was not serious about the offer to Mozes and was simply trying to test the publisher. According to a Channel Two report broadcast this weekend, Adelson told Israeli police investigators last month that Netanyahu had tried to persuade him to withdraw plans for weekend supplements at Israel Hayom. That would indicate that Netanyahu was indeed intent upon reaching a deal with Mozes. Netanyahu was named a suspect in the case on Thursday.
Also known as the “Submarine Affair,” this corruption scandal involves allegations of bribery in a more-than-billion-dollar submarine deal between Israel and Germany. The prime minister is not a suspect in this case, but his personal lawyer, adviser and cousin is. ThyssenKrupp, the German shipbuilder, is represented in Israel by Michael Ganor, the key suspect in the affair. Alleged to have bribed high-ranking defense officials to advance the deal, Ganor signed an agreement two weeks ago to turn state's evidence in the case. In exchange for testifying against other suspects, he will serve one year in prison and be fined 10 million shekels ($2.8 million). David Shimron, Netanyahu’s personal lawyer, adviser and cousin, also served as Ganor's attorney.
Shimron was suspected of lobbying Israeli Defense Ministry officials on behalf of Ganor and ThyssenKrupp. Although he was put under house arrest last month, he was recently given special permission to take a family trip abroad. Israeli media have reported that Shimron stood to gain tens of millions of shekels from the submarine deal, which has since been suspended. Shimron denied the report.
Former Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon told police that Netanyahu tried to facilitate the deal with ThyssenKrupp by urging the cancellation of a previous tender for the submarines issued by the Defense Ministry.. He has also accused Netanyahu of purchasing more submarines than the Defense Ministry deemed necessary. Netanyahu has denied these allegations. Half a dozen suspects have been detained in this case, among them the former commander of the Israeli navy, Vice Admiral (res.) Eliezer Marom.
Also known as the “Bezeq affair,” this is the latest corruption scandal to plague Netanyahu. It began with a special state comptroller report, published last month, on the problematic relationship between the Communications Ministry and Bezeq, Israel’s telecom giant. The report found that Shlomo Filber, director general of the Communications Ministry and former top aide to Netanyahu, had been providing Bezeq with confidential documents and other information from which it stood to benefit. Netanyahu had brought Filber to the Ministry of Communications after he fired Avi Berger, his predecessor at the job. Berger had been trying to advance a broadband reform that would have hurt Bezeq.
The State Comptroller report also found that while serving in his capacity as communications minister (Netanyahu holds various ministerial portfolios), the prime minister had not disclosed, as required, his friendship with Shaul Elovitch, the controlling shareholder in Bezeq. This disclosure was required since Netanyahu, in his capacity as communications minister, had the power to shape policy in a way that could benefit Bezeq. Although Netanyahu has not been named a suspect in this case, Filber has been put under house arrest and was suspended from his job.
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