Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit has ordered the police to open an inquiry into the ongoing submarine affair after receiving additional information gathered while investigating a top security official on suspicion of bribery.
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Revelations of alleged conflicts of interest regarding a huge military deal involving a German company represented in Israel by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's personal lawyer have roiled Israel’s political leaders and defense establishment in recent days.
The latest development comes after new material was uncovered while investigating former deputy National Security Council head Avriel Bar Yosef on suspicion of taking bribes. The information was handed to the head of the investigations and intelligence department Maj. Gen. Meni Yitzhaki on Wednesday afternoon, and he immediately updated the attorney general.
The decision to open the probe came after the attorney general met with senior Justice Ministry officials, including State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan, and the heads of police investigations and intelligence units on Wednesday evening. Israel is also considering conducting additional investigations abroad.
The police said that two days ago, they believed there was a possibility of starting a criminal investigation, but it was the information obtained on Wednesday that led all those concerned to agree to go forward with it.
An earlier meeting held on Sunday found no suspicions of criminal misdeeds in the affair, and it was decided to focus on an administrative examination of conflicts of interest on the part of Netanyahu and those involved in the incident, including his attorney, David Shimron.
Channel 10 reported on Tuesday that an email from a Defense Ministry official purportedly shows that Shimron intervened for a German shipyard concerning a sale of missile boats to the Israel Navy.
According to the report, Shimron called the ministry's legal adviser, attorney Ahaz Ben-Ari, and asked him to act on behalf of the German company. Ben-Ari recounted the conversation with Shimron in an email to the ministry's director general, Dan Harel.
The email, dated July 22, 2014, reportedly reads: “Attorney David Shimron, who represents the German firm, called me and wanted to know if we are halting the bidding process in order to negotiate with his client, as was requested of us by the prime minister.”
Responding to the Channel 10 story, Shimron told the station: “I didn’t tell attorney Ben-Ari a thing about the prime minister. I also didn’t know a thing about a request from the prime minister, which I have only learned about now from the media, and how Ben-Ari linked the matters. The only possible interpretation of this email, if your quote is correct, is that Ben-Ari knew about the prime minister’s request, about which I didn’t have the vaguest notion. I also didn’t have the vaguest notion about involvement by the prime minister in the shipyard issue. Any other interpretation is not connected to the truth.”
A complaint against Shimron has also been filed with the Israel Bar Association. The IBA told Haaretz they are awaiting Shimron's response, which he has 30 days to submit. Once it has been received, they would decide whether they will conduct any disciplinary procedures against him.
Shimron responded that he welcomed the attorney general's decision to launch the inquiry. "I am confident that once these matters are examined by a professional and objective party, it will become clear once and for all that there was no fault in my actions and that all was done according to the rules and arrangements regarding conflict of interests."
"It is evident that I will fully cooperate with all those involved in the conduct of the inquiry," he added.
Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman defended the controversial deal earlier on Wednesday, responding to criticism voiced by his predecessor, Moshe Ya'alon.
“We made a very good decision to protect our security with the submarine,” Lieberman said. “It is impossible to detail all the discussions. I can promise you that we made the best decision with a broad consensus among security officials and politicians.”