Binyamin and Sara Netanyahu leave for the US..
(photo credit: AVI OHAYON - GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu could face the most serious legal challenge to his political career in years after Israel Police Insp.-Gen. Yochanan Danino hinted on Thursday night that Meni Naftali, the disgruntled former chief overseer of the Prime Minister’s Residence, will be given immunity in exchange for providing testimony in two scandals alleged to be criminal.
Naftali was questioned for several hours at the police’s Lahav 433 unit headquarters in Lod on Thursday evening about how Netanyahu’s official residence in the capital was run. He was asked about issues involving money received from recycling bottles and lawn furniture purchased for the residence.
On February 4, Naftali gave testimony for at least two hours to police investigators in Lod regarding the cases. At the time, a police official said they were still waiting for Attorney- General Yehuda Weinstein to decide whether to open an official investigation.
The official said Naftali came to the Lahav 433 headquarters of his own volition to give testimony and was not called in by police. He added that the information that he gave did not change the police assessment about the case.
Danino told reporters on Thursday night that Naftali’s previous testimony was cut short by Naftali himself when he decided he didn’t want to risk incriminating himself further. He said the questioning on Thursday was initiated by Naftali after he and his attorney met with Weinstein and reached an understanding.
While Danino did not say they reached a deal on immunity, “It was agreed that the information he gives will not be used against him.” Once Naftali finishes his testimony to investigators, police will hand over the material to the attorney-general, who will decide how to proceed, the inspector-general said.
Asked by Channel 1 about the timing of the investigation so close to the March 17 election, Danino said Weinstein would decide how to handle the case based only on the content Naftali provided.
Speaking to reporters outside the offices of Lahav 433, Naftali vowed that he would “spill everything about the management of the prime minister’s house.” He said he knew his actions had an influence on the election but that it was not a concern of his.
“I am not afraid,” he said in response to a reporter’s query.
Before Naftali went in to begin his testimony to investigators, his attorney, Ofer Almog, said that he has reviewed the information his client was set to pass to police, and said that while he doesn’t believe that there was anything that would incriminate his client it was nonetheless fitting that he receive immunity.
“He was just following orders,” Almog said of Naftali.
Weinstein is considering whether to pursue criminal charges in claims brought up in State Comptroller Joseph Shapira’s report published on Tuesday. The decision whether to give Naftali immunity is expected to have a major impact, as his testimony is expected to be a central part of the attorney-general’s decision whether to pursue criminal charges in the affairs. The Justice Ministry said that the attorney-general, in consultation with the State Attorney’s Office, has decided to instruct police to complete taking testimony from Naftali as part of the investigation into the claims raised in the State Comptroller’s Report.
Earlier on Thursday, Naftali discussed with an attorney the possibility of suing the Likud spokesmen for slander after the party accused him of being responsible during his tenure as Prime Minister’s Residence overseer for the excessive spending at the residence, which was detailed in the comptroller report.
“The days are over in which anybody can say anything he wants, without a grain of truth and without taking responsibility,” Naftali said. “Again, at the Netanyahu residence, they forget that they are dealing with human beings. There is a limit to the abuse and cruelty that one person can suffer. I am a normal person. A simple man. My place of work did not uphold its obligation to me and countless times violated labor laws and my rights as a worker."
“In my darkest dreams I did not imagine that the prime minister of Israel could behave this way, and put the responsibility on me for his private expenditures and those of his family,” he continued.
“Just as the Netanyahu family abuses its workers in the Prime Minister’s Residence, they continue to abuse me and try to break my spirit in the worst possible way. I don’t recommend that anyone trade places with me.”
Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog mocked Netanyahu in a rally in Hod Hasharon on Thursday night, saying that if there were problems with his handling of the weather, he would blame Naftali.
In another potential blow to Netanyahu, Shapira announced on Thursday night that he would submit another report with significant implications before the election, this time on housing reforms.
Earlier in the day, the Likud dropped a lawsuit that alleged ties between the Zionist Union and the anti-Netanyahu organization V15. Had a connection been found, it would have meant V15’s overseas fund-raising broke election finance laws.
The Zionist Union praised the decision, saying Netanyahu “would have to find a new spin campaign.”
But the Likud said Judge Zvi Segal still wanted V15’s funding probed. The Likud called for a full investigation of the organization.