Police detained a former senior official on the National Security Council for questioning Tuesday morning on suspicion of taking bribes, money laundering, fraud and breach of trust. They also detained his wife for questioning and searched his office for evidence. The official was later released to five days of house arrest.
The police suspect that while serving on the NSC, the former official worked to advance the interests of a private businessman living in Germany. In exchange, he and his family received various financial benefits. Inter alia, police said, the official made several trips to Germany and Portugal in 2011-13 at the expense of a businessman who has had run-ins with the law in Germany in the past. The German newspaper Bild has reported that the businessman has faced a 100-million euro fraud trial. According to Ometz, an organization that seeks to promote good governance, he even served a prison sentence in Germany for fraud.
The probe began a few months ago, after Ometz gave the police material it had amassed about the former official. The ostensible purpose of the businessman’s ties with the official, police said, was to enable him to buy a dockyard in Portugal where he could compress natural gas exported from Israel’s Tamar field and ship it to customers. The two apparently intended to purchase ships from Germany for the project.
The businessman contacted the official because the latter, a former senior navy officer who retired with the rank of brigadier general, had vast naval experience as well as close ties to both other former senior naval officers and associates of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Moreover, while serving on the NSC, the official played a key role in drafting the council’s position paper on government policy toward the Tamar field. The paper argued that Tamar should be allowed to export its gas, and also that the Israel Navy should protect Tamar, as terrorist organizations were liable to target it. Netanyahu used this paper to argue that his controversial agreement with the natural gas monopoly – two companies which jointly control the Tamar and Leviathan fields – was justified on national security grounds. The fact that the paper was drafted largely by someone who received financial benefits from a party liable to profit from Tamar’s exports was never disclosed.
The senior official was forced in the past to resign as chairman of the board of a major Israeli company because of a conflict of interests. That apparently thwarted his candidacy to head the NSC.
Police believe that the official, his wife and his son made frequent trips abroad in the businessman’s private plane. The businessman also paid for their stays at luxury hotels, regaled them at fine restaurants and gave them expensive gifts, all while the official was on the NSC, police said.
Though police are currently focusing on the official and his wife, they expect to question other former senior navy officers in the coming days. But police said those officers may not have committed any crime, since it’s not clear how much they knew about the plan or whether they knew about the official’s financial ties to the businessman. The official and the businessman clearly made use of the former officers’ expertise in planning their floating compression plant, police said, but the former officers were most likely acting in good faith, as businessmen who thought they were helping a legitimate business enterprise.
Attorney Jacques Chen, representing the former official, said the investigation focused on claims already “published in the past by interested parties.” His client is cooperating with the police, he said, adding, “I’m certain that when the investigation ends, it will be clear these claims are baseless.”