GRUMPY OLD MAN: Shakedown cruise

Whether or not a Netanyahu crony interceded on behalf of a German sub manufacturer, sooner or later we’re going to have to confront the issue of lawyers and influence peddling.

By
July 27, 2017 18:42
4 minute read.
David Shimron

Pretty Murky - David Shimron . (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

One of the latest scandals du jour, the one about a very expensive submarine contract and at least one attorney, reminds me of a joke: What do you call a hundred lawyers at the bottom of the sea? A good start.

Don’t get me wrong. There’s a need for lawyers. My own insists on dotting every i and crossing every t. I wouldn’t have it any other way. That’s because other lawyers hope he’ll leave a loophole big enough for something toothy to come around and bite me in the posterior.

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For many lawyers, identifying and exploiting loopholes is a specialty, even a professional raison d’être. For many others, it’s gaining access to the corridors of power, where lawyers seem to thrive. There’s an intersection between these two groups that’s big enough to berth an entire flotilla of submarines.

In 2014, the Defense Ministry issued a public tender on behalf of the Israel Navy for bids on the construction of additional subs, as well as surface vessels.

The same year, according to a Channel 10 report, the ministry’s top legal adviser sent an email to the director-general reporting that attorney David Shimron had called to find out why the contract wasn’t going straight to his client, Miki Ganor, the Israeli representative of the German industrial giant ThyssenKrupp, “as requested by the prime minister.”

Channel 10 said it had a copy of the email.

Did I mention that top figures in the defense establishment opposed the sub purchase? Did I mention that Shimron is Netanyahu’s cousin and personal lawyer? Did I mention that Iran has a 4.5% stake in ThyssenKrupp? Did I mention that this is not a Hollywood script? It’s difficult to know right now who said what, who did what and whether there was collusion between Netanyahu and Shimron, something both deny. It might all come down to what Ganor says now that he’s turned state’s witness, having agreed to a year in the slammer and a NIS 10 million fine. But if a prime minister’s personal lawyer goes around trying to sew up a lucrative government contract on behalf of a third party by throwing the prime minister’s name into the mix, you’ve got to admit this makes things pretty murky.

NETANYAHU IS well aware that his good friend, US President Donald Trump, ran on a platform of “draining the swamp.”

Of course, no matter how vociferously he might claim otherwise, Trump hasn’t done much to follow through. He’s refused to sell his business assets and place the proceeds in a blind trust, which is standard operating procedure for avoiding conflicts of interest. He’s even refused to release his tax returns, also SOP.

But he wasn’t talking about that, he’ll tell you. He was talking about lobbyists and revolving government doors, that stinking, oozing swamp in which people parlay personal relationships with powerful people to further the goals of outsiders. It’s often called influence peddling.

Lobbyists everywhere are supposed to register with government authorities.

Even in Israel. But you don’t really have to, as countless lawyers have shown us.

All you have to do is be well-connected.

The lawyer part is just the icing on the cake – or, if you prefer, the layer of slime on the swamp.

In his resumé on the website of his law firm, Shimron is identified as having been the “chief negotiator for the formation of the current [government] coalition….” He “handled the drafting and negotiations for the coalition agreements with a number of the coalition parties on behalf of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.”

The law firm is called E.S. Shimron, I. Molho, Persky & Co. The son of the man who’s at the top of the masthead, Shimron is today a senior partner along with his wife’s brother, Isaac Molcho. If that name sounds familiar, it’s because he’s another confidant of Netanyahu, used by the prime minister for quiet diplomatic contacts.

The overall profile of SMP indicates that it views these qualities as a strong draw: “[T]he firm is exceptionally wellequipped to handle complex and novel issues, to understand clients’ needs, and to provide comprehensive and creative legal solutions.” Toward the end of the profile, it drops all pretexts: “Outside of the legal arena… the firm has maintained a close relationship with the various governments of Israel….”

So there you have it – a great reason to turn to SMP if you need a lawyer to close that special deal.

TO GET BACK to the joke, I say someone should gather 100 lawyers who specialize in deals of this type, take them up to the naval base in Haifa and point them in the direction of a submarine hatch.

After they climb down, throw in some air, food and water, seal the hatch and run the sub a few kilometers offshore.

Once there, flood the ballast tanks and let the wonks sit on the seabed for a month or so within the vessel’s low, narrow confines, sleeping in shifts in the same bunks, taking short “navy showers” once a week and sharing the single head.

Call it a shakedown cruise, which is what brand-new vessels undergo to identify and shake out shipyard kinks.

Quite conveniently, a shakedown is also what unseemly characters do to obtain money from people who ordinarily owe them nothing. Lawyers can be very good at this.

When they surface, ask them how it was at the bottom of the sea. Then ask them about their current proclivity for “complex and novel issues” and “comprehensive and creative legal solutions.”

My bet is that before they take their first step on dry land, at least some will ask for a transfer to some other, more prosaic, specialty.

Several such cruises a year would be a good start. And that’s no joke.


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