In first, police say cases against PM Netanyahu involve bribery, fraud
Israeli police on Thursday for the first time explicitly said that a number of corruption investigations involving Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu deal with “bribery, fraud and breach of trust.” The police stopped short of saying that the Israeli leader was directly suspected of these crimes, even as a gag order was imposed on details pertaining to the cases.
An Israeli court approved a police request to place a gag order on details surrounding negotiations for a former Netanyahu aide, Ari Harow, turning state’s witness as part of two criminal investigations where the prime minister is a key suspect.
“Case 2000,” as it has been dubbed by police, involves a suspected quid pro quo deal between Netanyahu and Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Arnon Mozes in which the two seemed to discuss an illicit agreement that would have seen the prime minister hobble a rival daily, the Sheldon Adelson-backed Israel Hayom, in return for more favorable coverage from Yedioth.
The investigation began after police found recordings on Harow’s computer of the meetings between Netanyahu and Mozes in late 2014 and early 2015. Netanyahu denies any wrongdoing.
Harow has been under investigation since mid-2015 on suspicion of having used his ties to Netanyahu to advance his private interests. Police have recommended he be indicted for bribery and breach of trust in the case, but Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit has yet to file formal charges against him.
The gag order also affects “Case 1000”, in which the prime minister and his wife are suspected of receiving illicit gifts from billionaire benefactors, most notably hundreds of thousands of shekels’ worth of cigars and champagne from the Israeli-born Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan. Netanyahu is the primary suspect in the case. The couple has denied wrongdoing.
Recent reports indicated efforts were under way for Harow to become a witness for the prosecution against his former boss.
In their request, granted Judge Einat Ron of the Central District Magistrate’s Court, police said media coverage of the negotiations with Harow “seriously damage the investigation.”
Earlier Thursday, Mandelblit appeared to confirm that prosecutors were working alongside police to reach an agreement with Harow.
“We are progressing and working with police on this matter,” Mandelblit said at a ceremony for outgoing Supreme Court Justice Salim Joubran. “I think that these things speak for themselves. We are doing our jobs; give us time to work and we will get to the truth.”
While preventing publication of the details, the gag order confirmed negotiations were underway to reach a deal.
Harow has repeatedly declined requests from the Times of Israel to comment on the legal proceedings against him or police efforts for him to sign a plea bargain.
Importantly, the order acknowledged that both investigations “deal with suspicions of crimes of fraud and breach of trust.” Netanyahu has been questioned under caution as a criminal suspect in both cases. In “Case 1000,” he is the only suspect.
Harow is reportedly willing to provide information in both probes, having served as chief of staff during the time of the alleged deal with Mozes and while Netanyahu is said to have received gifts worth hundreds of thousands of shekels.
On Wednesday, Channel 2 news reported that Harow would also provide testimony in the so-called “submarine affair,” also known as “Case 3000,” an investigation into the allegedly corrupt purchase of naval vessels from Germany that could lead to indictments of senior public officials. Netanyahu is not a suspect in that case, although he is likely to be called to testify.
Harow first worked for Netanyahu as foreign affairs adviser during his stint as leader of the opposition. He then spearheaded the 2009 election campaign that catapulted Netanyahu back into office. Following the election, he served as the prime minister’s bureau chief until 2010, managing Netanyahu’s schedule and advising him on a range of issues.
He took a break from politics in 2010, when he founded 3H Global, a consultancy firm whose sale he is suspected of fabricating. Harow later returned as chief of staff of the Prime Minister’s Office in 2014, serving there for a year before leaving to run the 2015 election campaign for Netanyahu’s Likud party.
In a fourth corruption case, sometimes called “Case 4000”, police were investigating Shlomo Filber, the director-general of the Communications Ministry, over suspected securities offenses related to a merger involving the national telephone company Bezeq.
Israel’s state comptroller released a report earlier this month that accused Netanyahu of failing to originally disclose his close ties with Bezeq head Shaul Elovitz, and raised suspicions that the prime minister — who at the time held the post of communications minister — and Filber made decisions at the ministry in favor of Bezeq.