It was Israel’s political crisis that prevented the launch of an investigation into Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s buying and selling of shares in the SeaDrift Coke company, owned by his cousin, when the affair first broke in February 2019.
The policy of the Justice Ministry is not to launch probes of senior politicians on the eve of an election. Under ordinary circumstances, the sophisticated financial trick of Netanyahu’s purchase of shares in SeaDrift at a tenth or less of their real cost should have led to an immediate investigation the moment news of the affair broke.
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The information on which the concealed transfer of wealth into Netanyahu’s pocket is based is mostly open to the public as it appears in reports filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. The rest of the relevant material is in the state comptroller’s office. And so it’s not clear why any more information is needed including that which has been requested from the U.S. authorities, which are dragging their feet. The affair should be investigated at once, without waiting for the Americans.
The relationship between Netanyahu and his cousin, businessman Nathan Milikowsky, is suspicious in general. In addition to the shares deal, Milikowsky lent $200,000 to Netanyahu’s daughter, Noa Roth, and it is not at all clear if the loan was ever repaid. Milikowsky also funded Netanyahu’s legal expenses to the tune of $300,000 – without permission to do so. There was an arrangement between Netanyahu and Milikowsky about an allocation in cash handed over at each of their meetings. Netanyahu’s receipt of funds in concealed ways – while contravening the comptroller’s rules on reporting such transactions – is on the face of it enough to suspect the crime of aggravated fraudulent receipt, a crime attributed to former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in the cash envelopes affair.
The urgency of an investigation no longer has to do with the risk of the statute of limitations. From the moment the request was made of the Americans, there is a strong basis for the legal argument that the statute of limitations clock has been stopped in the affair.
The urgency of an investigation stems from the pervasive corruption uncovered in the ties between Netanyahu and Milikowsky. Moreover, last week Haaretz’s Gidi Weitz reported that according to Netanyahu’s own testimony in the lavish gifts affair, he abused the power of his office when in 2015 he raised, and subsequently lowered, the cost of extending the franchise for Channel 10 by millions of shekels when he was communications minister, in order to block the purchase of Channel 10 (now Channel 13) by businessman Ilan Shiloah, to pave the way for its purchase by current owner, Len Blavatnik. There is no reasonable explanation for the fact that this was not investigated and did not become part of the indictment against Netanyahu. Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit must also investigate and correct this defect without delay.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.