Attorney General: No Grounds to Investigate Netanyahu in Submarine Affair

Movement for Quality Government, who petitioned the high court to investigate Netanyahu's role in the submarine sales, said the state’s response in the case is 'embarrassing and shameful'

Netael Bandel
Netael Bandel
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Avichai Mendelblit attends a conference at Tel Aviv University, January 28, 2020.
Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit attends a conference at Tel Aviv University, January 28, 2020.Credit: Ofer Vaknin
Netael Bandel
Netael Bandel

Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit informed the High Court of Justice on Sunday that there was no reasonable basis for opening an investigation against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the so-called “submarine affair.”

In the state’s response to a petition filed by the Movement for Quality Government, the State Prosecutor’s Office said that Mendelblit’s decision not to open an investigation because of a lack of a reasonable suspicion had already had judicial review by the High Court. “The court saw no reason to intervene in the decision, after it was presented with the evidentiary considerations it was based on.”

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The submarine affair petition was submitted by the Movement for Quality Government in June. It asked the court to order Mendelblit to open a criminal investigation against Netanyahu on suspicions surrounding the purchase of submarines and missile corvettes from German company Thyssenkrupp Marine Systems five years ago.

At the center of the affair are two agreements between Israel and the German company: One was to buy three submarines for 1.5 billion euros; the other was the purchase of missile corvettes for the purpose of defending Israel’s offshore natural gas fields and production platforms for 430 million euros. Senior IDF officers, public officials and a number of people close to Netanyahu are suspected of demanding and receiving bribes to advance the deals with ThyssenKrupp.

Mendelblit announced during the investigation of the affair that Netanyahu was not a criminal suspect in the case. The case led to the recommendation to indict – among many others – attorney David Shimron, who is the Netanyahu family’s personal lawyer and Netanyahu’s cousin, as well as a close confidant.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Reuven Rivlin and then Navy Commander Major general Ram Rothberg standing on top of the new submarine, September 23, 2014.Credit: Kobi Gideon / Government Press Office

As for the petitioners’ request for the High Court to order the government to establish a national commission of inquiry into the affair, the state told the High Court that this request should be denied out of hand because it is not a question to be decided by the court.

This is because after Mendelblit’s decision not to open a criminal investigation into Netanyahu over his sale of shares in the steel company Seadrift, the situation changed – but the State Prosecutor’s Office did say that it was not expressing a position in principle on whether such an inquiry commission may be established.

The Movement for Quality Government said the state’s response in the case is “embarrassing and shameful. Instead of relating to the point of the weighty claims and the serious suspicions the movement’s petition points out, the state is relying on the previous denials,” which were lacking. The movement said it is certain the High Court will examine the facts and clear away the heavy cloud hanging over the submarine and ship affair.

Last week, Mendelblit decided to close the case against Netanyahu over the sale of shares in the steel company Seadrift. Mendelblit told the High Court that the statute of limitations has run out on the possible charge of breach of trust involved, and the evidence gathered did not provide an adequate basis for opening a criminal investigation against Netanyahu. Mendelblit also said in his response at the time that some of the claims and facts involved were the same as those in the submarine case raised a worrying picture – but given the circumstances were not in themselves adequate to open a criminal investigation.

Two weeks ago, the High Court issued a temporary gag order on the affidavits of defense establishment employees concerning the submarine affair, which were submitted to the High Court as part of the petition demanding to investigate Netanyahu. The state asked the High Court to ban the publication of the affidavits, and on Thursday Supreme Court justice Noam Sohlberg heard the request.

At the end of the hearing, which was held behind closed doors, Sohlberg asked the petitioners, the Movement for Quality Government and the State prosecutor’s office to reach an agreement on the question of whether the publication of the affidavits represented a risk to national security – and to present their response in 10 days. Sohlberg ruled that the affidavits may not be released before then.

Last week, Channel 12 News reported that Netanyahu applied unusual pressure to buy a seventh submarine from ThyssenKrupp, the former director general of the Defense Ministry, Maj. Gen. (res.) Dan Harel, said in an affidavit submitted to the High Court of Justice. Harel described an argument between Netanyahu and himself on the matter. “I had the impression that there was an interest whose nature is not clear to me behind this procurement initiative,” he wrote.

On Thursday, Defense Minister Benny Gantz said he was examining the possibility of establishing a commission of inquiry on the submarine affair. Haaretz has reported that Gantz has been examining the possibility of such a commission for weeks.

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