Attorney General Says Netanyahu Received Benefits in Shares Affair, but No Basis for Probe

Circumstances don't not provide adequate foundation to order a criminal investigation against Netanyahu, Mendelblit and Justice Ministry officials say

Netael Bandel
Netael Bandel
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PM Netanyahu (L) and Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit, in 2015.
PM Netanyahu (L) and Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit, in 2015. Credit: Mark Israel Salem
Netael Bandel
Netael Bandel

Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit has decided not to launch an investigation into Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s buying and selling of shares in the SeaDrift Coke company, owned by his cousin, but determined that the prime minister had received "significant" benefits.

Citing statute of limitations on the breach of trust suspicion against Netanyahu, Mendelblit said that the evidence collected is insufficient to question the prime minister under caution.

Haaretz Podcast: Could a Trump triumph be Netanyahu's get out of jail free card?Credit: Haaretz

The prosecutor in the other three corruption cases against Netanyahu, Liat Ben Ari, deputy State Prosecutor for criminal affairs Shlomo Lemberger and deputy attorney generals Raz Nizri and Amit Merari all agreed with the decision.

Netanyahu currently stands trial for suspected bribery, fraud and breach of trust.

At the heart of the stocks case lies the relationship between Netanyahu and his cousin Nathan Milikowsky, and the profit that the prime minister made when he sold his shares in Seadrift Coke – a subsidiary of Milikowsky's limited partnership company NMSD – while he was serving as prime minister.

Netanyahu bought 1.7 percent NMSD's shares for about $600,000. The company later merged with GrafTech International, a supplier to the German company Thyssenkrupp, which is at the center of the submarine acquisition affair, also known as Case 3000.

According to Mendelblit and Justice Ministry officials, the circumstances of the matter do not provide an adequate foundation to order the opening of a criminal investigation against Netanyahu. Nonetheless, they added that Netanyahu received a significant benefit from Milikowsky.

The suspicion was that Netanyahu bought the shares, worth some 4 million shekels (about $1.1 million), while serving as opposition leader in August 2007. He sold the shares in 2010, about 19 months after being elected prime minister, for at least 16 million shekels. The large profit on the deal does not seem to reflect the company’s financial situation and market conditions, and as a result Netanyahu was suspected of receiving a forbidden economic benefit while in office. In addition, a criminal suspicion arose as to whether Netanyahu properly reported the sale of the stock to the state comptroller.

When Netanyahu sold his shares, Seadrift’s economic performance was far worse compared to the year he had acquired them.

When he became prime minister in March 2009, Netanyahu was required to put all the shares he owned into a blind trust. The permits committee, which operates under the auspices of the State Comptroller’s Office, granted Netanyahu an extension of 30 days to transfer the shares – and a year later determined that he had not done so. In 2010 he sold the shares to Milikowsky for 16 million shekels as part of the merger between Seadrift and GrafTech.

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