Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Israel’s High Court agrees to hear petitions on opening criminal probe into PM Netanyahu bribery case

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The High Court of Justice announced on Monday that it will hear petitions calling for a criminal probe into the alleged involvement of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the so-called submarine scandal.

The Movement for Quality Government in Israel has requested that the court compel Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit to order a criminal investigation into Netanyahu’s possible involvement in the affair, also known as Case 3000, which revolves around allegations of a massive bribery scheme in the multi-billion-shekel state purchase of naval vessels from German shipbuilder Thyssenkrupp.

A second petition, connected to the first and filed by the Democracy Guard in Israel watchdog, demands that Netanyahu be investigated over the sale of stocks he held.

Netanyahu reportedly purchased shares in Texas-based SeaDrift Coke, a longtime supplier of Thyssenkrupp, in 2007 for $400,000, then sold them in 2010 for $4.3 million.

Netanyahu’s opponents have accused the premier of a possible conflict of interest in the Thyssenkrupp affair, and have alleged he may have benefited financially from it.

In October, the state prosecution told the High Court of Justice that it believes there is no justification to open a criminal probe into Netanyahu over the matter.

While several of Netanyahu’s close associates face charges in the case, which involves suspicions Israeli officials were bribed to push for the acquisitions of naval vessels and submarines from Thyssenkrupp, the prime minister has not been implicated and the attorney general has said he is not a suspect.

Earlier this month, members of a committee probing the scandal resigned, citing a dispute with Mandelblit regarding the scope of the powers of their inquiry. Retired judge Amnon Straschnov, who had headed the panel, wrote to Defense Minister Benny Gantz, who initiated the committee, and said its members would be stepping down over limitations to what they could do while a parallel criminal investigation into the scandal was underway.

Netanyahu, who was accused by opposition lawmakers, including former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon, of having led an improper effort to buy the submarines from Thyssenkrupp, has previously blocked a number of efforts to form a parliamentary commission of inquiry.

Apart from the vessels purchased by Israel, the scandal also involves the sale of two Dolphin-class submarines and two anti-submarine warships by Germany to Egypt, allegedly okayed by Netanyahu without consulting or notifying the Defense Ministry. Critics and rivals of Netanyahu allege he had a possible conflict ‎of ‎interest surrounding the massive deal for the vessels.

David Shimron, Netanyahu’s personal lawyer and second cousin, was originally suspected of mediating a bribery deal in the submarine case, but that charge was dropped by police and he is instead charged with money laundering. Avriel Bar-Yosef, Netanyahu’s one-time pick for national security adviser, faces charges of requesting a bribe, taking a bribe, fraud, and breach of trust.

Other prominent suspects in the case include Miki Ganor, Thyssenkrupp’s representative in Israel, who is charged with bribery, money laundering, and tax offenses; Eliezer Marom, a former head of the Israeli Navy, who faces charges of bribery, money laundering and tax offenses; and David Sharan, a former aide to Netanyahu and to Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz, who was charged with bribery, breach of trust and money laundering.

Netanyahu is already on trial for fraud and breach of trust in three other cases, and bribery in one of them. He denies any wrongdoing and claims to be a victim of an attempted political coup involving the police, prosecutors, left-wing opposition and the media.

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