The first indictment in a series of scandals threatening the future of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appears imminent.
Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit is expected to bring fraud charges against Sara Netanyahu, the wife of the Israeli leader, for unlawfully accepting 400,000 shekels ($111,850) in goods. She is suspected of ordering catered chef’s meals for the prime minister’s official residence in defiance of regulations. Sarah Netanyahu has denied the allegations, instead blaming the former chief caretaker of the prime minister’s residence, Meni Naftali, for the inflated expenses that were discovered. But police reportedly have evidence that the practice began before Naftali assumed his position at the official residence and continued after he left.
The driving force behind a new grassroots movement aimed at toppling Netanyahu, Naftali has already sued the prime minister’s wife for treating him and other household staff abusively. He won the case and prevailed in an appeal.
New details have also been revealed in recent days in two other cases connected to the prime minister. “Case 3000,” also known as the “Submarine Affair,” involves allegations of bribery in a more-than-billion-dollar submarine deal between Israel and Germany. On Sunday, Netanyahu’s former bureau chief David Sharan was detained on suspicions of taking bribes in the case.
“Case 2000” involves allegations that Netanyahu tried to strike a deal that would have provided him with positive coverage in Israel’s second largest newspaper in exchange for hurting its freebie rival, Israel Hayom. The prime minister has long played down reports of his overriding influence on Israel Hayom, a pro-Netanyahu newspaper founded and financed by casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, but phone logs released this week of his conversations with the newspaper’s editor-in-chief suggest otherwise. By matching up the dates of the phone calls with headlines that appeared in the newspaper, Channel 10 reporter Raviv Drucker was able to show circumstantial evidence of Netanyahu’s influence on various headlines.
These are not the only investigations that could threaten Netanyahu’s reign of power. Here is a review of recent developments in the various corruption cases that could potentially bring him down.
This investigation involves allegations that Netanyahu, his wife Sara and their son Yair received lavish gifts from two wealthy businessmen: Israeli-born Hollywood mogul Arnon Milchan and Australian billionaire James Packer. Netanyahu and his wife Sara allegedly received regular shipments of expensive cigars and champagne, worth hundreds of thousands of shekels, from Milchan. It has also been reported that Milchan bought Netanyahu’s wife an expensive piece of jewelry.
Netanyahu has insisted these gifts were nothing more than tokens of friendship and no favors were provided to Milchan in return. Packer has allegedly lavished gifts on Netanyahu’s son Yair, including free flights and hotel rooms. Netanyahu, his wife and son – along along with Milchan and Packer – have all already been questioned by police in the case. Netanyahu was named a suspect in this case last month. The prime minister’s bureau has responded that the allegations are “unfounded.”
This probe involves allegations that Netanyahu was willing to sell out Israel Hayom to obtain favorable coverage in Yedioth Ahronoth, a newspaper known to be critical of him. The deal would have cut the circulation potential of Israel Hayom, which since its founding has replaced Yedioth Ahronoth as the country’s largest circulating newspaper.
Last month, a former Netanyahu aide signed an agreement to serve as state’s witness in this case. In exchange for testifying against Netanyahu, American-born Ari Harow, the prime minister’s former chief of staff, will avoid jail time in a separate case.
Some of the conversations between Netanyahu and Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Arnon Mozes were recorded on Harow’s smartphone, which was confiscated by police while they were investigating the other case against him. Harow is believed to have been intensely involved in the negotiations between Netanyahu and Mozes. His agreement to testify against Netanyahu, therefore, greatly strengthens the possibility of an indictment in this case.
Netanyahu has long claimed that he was not serious about the offer to Mozes and was simply trying to test the publisher. According to a recent Channel Two report broadcast, Adelson told Israeli police investigators that Netanyahu had tried to persuade him to withdraw plans for weekend supplements at Israel Hayom. That would indicate that Netanyahu was indeed intent upon reaching a deal with Mozes. Netanyahu was named a suspect in the case as well last month. The prime minister’s bureau has responded that the allegations are “unfounded.”
The “Submarine Affair” is by far the most serious scandal swirling around Netanyahu. The prime minister is not a suspect in this particular case, but three of his close confidantes are. ThyssenKrupp, the German shipbuilder, is represented in Israel by Michael Ganor, the key suspect in the affair. Alleged to have bribed high-ranking defense officials to advance the deal, Ganor signed an agreement this summer to turn state’s witness in the case. In exchange for testifying against other suspects, he will serve one year in prison and be fined 10 million shekels ($2.8 million). David Shimron, Netanyahu’s personal lawyer, adviser and cousin, served as Ganor’s attorney.
Shimron was suspected of lobbying Israeli Defense Ministry officials on behalf of Ganor and ThyssenKrupp. Israeli media have reported that Shimron stood to gain tens of millions of shekels from the submarine deal. He has denied the report.
Former Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon told police that Netanyahu tried to facilitate the deal with ThyssenKrupp by urging the cancellation of a previous tender for the submarines issued by the Defense Ministry. He has also accused Netanyahu of purchasing more submarines than the Defense Ministry deemed necessary. Netanyahu has denied these allegations.
Half a dozen suspects have been detained in this case, among them the former commander of the Israeli navy, Vice Admiral (res.) Eliezer Marom, who was questioned again this week. Another key suspect is Avriel Bar-Yosef, former deputy head of the National Security Council, who is also known to have close ties to Netanyahu.
Also known as the “Bezeq affair,” this corruption scandal began with a special state comptroller report, published in July, on the problematic relationship between the Communications Ministry and Bezeq, Israel’s telecom giant. The report found that Shlomo Filber, director general of the Communications Ministry and a former top aide to Netanyahu, had been providing Bezeq with confidential documents and other information from which the company stood to benefit. Netanyahu had brought Filber to the Ministry of Communications after he fired Avi Berger, his predecessor at the job. Berger had been trying to advance a broadband reform that would have hurt Bezeq.
The State Comptroller report also found that while serving as communications minister (Netanyahu holds various ministerial portfolios), the prime minister had not disclosed, as required, his friendship with Shaul Elovitch, the controlling shareholder in Bezeq. This disclosure was required since Netanyahu had the power to shape policy in a way that could benefit Bezeq.
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