Israel: Netanyahu relative and associates to be charged with corruption

Oliver Holmes in Jerusalem
Photograph: POOL/Reuters

Israel’s state prosecutor plans to indict several associates of Benjamin Netanyahu, including his cousin, for corruption in relation to a contentious £1.5bn deal to buy German submarines.

The justice ministry said in a statement that seven men would be charged with various criminal offences, including bribery, money laundering and fraud, pending a pre-trial hearing.

While Netanyahu is not a suspect, he was questioned in the long-running and high-profile investigation, known as Case 3000. Thursday’s announcement will ramp up pressure on the prime minister as he faces his own separate corruption indictments as well as a political battle that could end his decades-long career.

David Shimron, a relative of Netanyahuwho also worked as his personal lawyer, is accused of using his status and closeness to the prime minister to push Israel to buy nuclear-capable submarines and naval patrol boats.

The lawyer had received suspicions payments amounting to 270,000 shekels (£59,000) which were defined as a “reward for success” and for “opening the doors”, police said. He was given the money by an Israeli businessman and Thyssenkrupp’s ex-local agent, Miki Ganor, who first turned state witness but later recanted his testimony.

David Sharan, a former head of staff for Netanyahu, is also due to be indicted, as is the ex-head of the navy, Admiral Eliezer Marom.

Shimron will be charged with money laundering, while Ganor, Sharan, and Marom will also face bribery indictments. All the suspects have denied any wrongdoing.

After the alleged scheme was uncovered, Thyssenkrupp suspended its ties with Ganor and launched an internal probe that found no evidence of corruption in its handling of the 2016 contract. However, it said the results of the investigation were provisional.

Responding to Thursday’s announcement, the company said: “To the best of our knowledge, Thyssenkrupp or its employees will not be investigated in Israel. We are currently unable to provide any further information, even on detailed questions, because we have only taken all the information from the press.”

Separately, Israel’s attorney general has charged Netanyahu with bribery, fraud and breach of trust in three separate corruption cases.

The charge sheet accused the Israeli leader of accepting hundreds of thousands of pounds in luxury gifts from billionaire friends and for trading valuable favours with Israeli media and telecoms moguls for positive news coverage.

The Israeli PM is embroiled in four cases involving allegations of bribery and misconduct. He denies wrongdoing in every instance.

Case 1000 is an investigation into gifts received on a regular basis by Netanyahu and his family from two wealthy businessmen, including cigars and pink champagne.

Case 2000 is examining whether Netanyahu behaved improperly during a taped conversation with a newspaper publisher in which he appeared to try to negotiate more sympathetic coverage in return for lowering the circulation of a rival paper.

Case 3000 is an inquiry into alleged kickbacks in a deal to buy German submarines. Netanyahu is not a suspect, but he was closely involved in the deal and the case has ensnared members of his inner circle. 

Case 4000, the most serious, involves allegations that Netanyahu offered incentives to the Israeli telecoms company Bezeq in exchange for positive stories in an online news website it owns, Walla.

Netanyahu has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, alleging he is the victim of a witch-hunt. After the indictments against him were announced, he launched a tirade against the police and judiciary, claiming the “politically motivated” charges amounted to an “attempted coup” against him.

The indictments arrived at a precarious time for Israel’s longest-serving leader. Netanyahu is scrambling to remain in power after failing to secure a clear win in two elections this year.

Sara Netanyahu, the prime minister’s wife, has also faced accusations of exploiting her position. In June, she was convicted of illegally misusing thousands of pounds of public funds for lavish meals, despite having an in-house cook provided by the state.

Reuters contributed to this report