In Talks to Turn State Witness, PM's Trusted Aide Gives Police Details on Netanyahu Criminal Probes

Netanyahu will sweat if Ari Harow, his ex-chief of staff, turns state witness ■ Police chief tells closed forum: 'There's been significant developments'

Ari Harow (L) beside Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, September 8, 2016.
Dan Balilty/AP

State’s witness season is in full swing; key people who were close to the inner orbit and became entangled in criminal acts are trying to extricate themselves from the risk of conviction, which carries with it the real possibility of a long prison sentence. After Michael Ganor, there is quite a possibility that the prime minister’s former chief of staff, Ari Harow, will turn state’s witness, this time in cases in which the suspect is Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Harow served for two terms in key positions in the Prime Minister’s Office. In 2009 he was appointed bureau chief, he left after a year to pursue private business interests and in 2014 he came back to the aquarium, this time as chief of staff. In between he maintained “friendly contact” with the prime minister, as he attested in the past in an official document.

In late 2015, Harow was arrested by the national fraud squad, on suspicion of continuing to secretly operate a private lobbying and consulting business while he was the premier’s chief of staff. Last year, when the police began to examine matters pertaining to the prime minister, Harow landed in Israel and was immediately taken for questioning under warning, which meant he might be accused of a crime. Various pieces of information were thrown at him that police investigators had amassed.

This information allegedly indicated criminal connections between Harow, the prime minister and people in the prime minister’s circles. Now it can be told that the moves toward a state’s witness deal actually began at that time, but Harow, as it was with the first round with former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s bureau chief, Shula Zaken, who was supposedly cooperating with the police, he only delivered some of the goods, and that did not justify the state letting him off too easily. The case against Harow was then, as now, solid. “He’ll go to jail,” said senior figures in the know with regard to the investigation of Harow.

Last summer Harow had already entangled Netanyahu and the latter’s attorney, David Shimron, on suspicion of forging a document in the matter of the employment of Odelia Karmon, whose salary as an adviser to Netanyahu when he was head of the opposition was paid by the American Friends of Likud, which Harow headed. At some point, Netanyahu apparently became worried that Karmon’s employment would lead to a state comptroller’s investigation and he is suspected of acting to cover it up. Police investigators thought Shimron should be questioned under warning and a full investigation launched, but Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit stopped them and decided to shelve the examination.

After the examination did turn into a criminal investigation, the investigators once again sought to turn the Karmon affair into an investigation, but the attorney general refused, saying that even if evidence is discovered of criminal actions, it will be stymied by the statute of limitations. In recent months, the frequency of contacts between Harow and the prosecution, with Harow providing details in two of the fresh cases in which Netanyahu is a suspect. One is receiving gifts and favors from wealthy figures and the other is contacts involving an alleged attempt by Netanyahu to bribe Yedioth Ahronoth publisher to give him favorable coverage in exchange for cutting back on the commercial activity of the competing newspaper Israel Hayom.

Harow played a major role in the Netanyahu-Mozes affair: He recorded some of the conversations on his iPhone, he took part in some of them and mainly, there are signs that Netanyahu asked Harow to take actions to find out whether the deal with Mozes could be clinched. This is the keystone in this case. It might be said that the version Netanyahu and Mozes give is that they never intended to make such a deal.

If Harow does provide evidence that he acted for Netanyahu to do so, that would be a significant development in this case, which is the most serious of the cases in which Netanyahu is a suspect.

In the gifts and favors case, there is also apparently a potential Harow version that could contribute to showing deeper connections between Netanyahu and benefactors. Progress in talks with Harow, as well as additional evidence collected in this case, are possibly what led Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich to say a few weeks ago in a closed forum that there had been a significant development in the investigation.

The question that remains open in these deals is the price. Over the past decade there have been several key crime-generators who operated a bribery industry amounting to tens of millions of shekels for years and they did not serve one day behind bars. Those people, who regularly corrupted elected officials and public servants, were extricated from the jaws of justice mainly for one of two reasons:

1. They dropped a big group of influential white collar criminals into the net; 2. The police and prosecution did not have strong enough evidence against them and their accomplices without the aid of state’s witnesses. These two rules can teach us something about the inferior deal made by Michael Ganor’s attorneys – a year in prison and a 10 million-shekel ($2.8 million) fine, as well as about a future deal, if one is signed, with Harow.

In any case, this is not a happy sign for the prime minister.