Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s lawyer, confidant and relative David Shimron has been questioned under caution, and was briefly put under house arrest in a scandal that revolves around the purchase of submarines from the German company ThyssenKrupp.
Netanyahu told reporters who accompanied him to Hungary on Wednesday that he had no idea Shimron had any connection to the submarine deal or that Shimon represented ThyssenKrupp’s agent in Israel, Miki Ganor. While he expressed confidence that his attorney would be found innocent, he also appeared to distance himself from him by noting that Shimron is his second – not first – cousin.
Sources who have worked with Netanyahu and Shimron over the past 30 years and spoke to The Jerusalem Post this week described Shimron as the closest man to the prime minister. They said the only men the prime minister really trusts are Shimron and his brother-in-law, Isaac Molcho, who is Netanyahu’s diplomatic adviser and Shimron’s partner in E.S. Shimron, I. Molcho, Persky & Co., one of the leading commercial and corporate law firms in the country.
“He is the man trusted by the least trusting man in Israel,” a former Netanyahu adviser said of Shimron, underscoring Netanyahu’s penchant for secrecy and how close he is to Shimron. “Netanyahu even whispers so his security guards won’t hear him. He was always paranoid, and being on the job for so long has only made him more paranoid. Shimron and Molcho are the last people he can really trust besides his immediate family. Without them, he might not have any real friends.”
Shimron was born in 1951 to a wealthy Jerusalem family that was close with the Netanyahus. His father, Erwin, was Israel’s second state’s attorney.
He headed the city’s student council and was part of the Tzofim Scouts youth group, where his counselor was Yoni Netanyahu, the prime minister’s late brother, who was killed while commanding the 1976 Entebbe rescue operation.
Following Yoni’s death, Shimron helped form the Jonathan Netanyahu Institute for Researching Terror. Since Netanyahu entered politics in 1988, Shimron has handled all his finances, including campaign contributions. He has headed the negotiating teams that built Netanyahu’s governing coalitions, including the current one.
Shimron has always made an effort to maintain his privacy and remain behind the scenes. But in November, Channel 10 political analyst Raviv Drucker revealed that Shimron had worked for Ganor and that the police were looking into allegations that Shimron lobbied defense officials on behalf of ThyssenKrupp for a €1.5 billion submarine sale to Israel.
Former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon and others have said they thought these deals were very expensive and unnecessary, and have spoken similarly about other deals for the purchase of naval vessels and run Israel’s shipyards. Netanyahu has said he wanted to make such deals before a possible change of power in Germany. Police have said Netanyahu is not a suspect in the investigation.
On July 10, Shimron was detained along with five other suspects. He was placed under house arrest and forbidden to speak about the issue with Netanyahu.
But six days later, police permitted him to leave to the US for a planned vacation to visit his children and grandchildren who live in California.
If he is tracking the headlines from Israel while he is on vacation, Shimron has received both good and bad news from police leaks to Israeli journalists this past week, following his questioning by police.
Channel 2’s Amnon Abramovich reported Friday that all his sources tell him that Shimron’s role in the sub affair has been exaggerated by the media to his detriment.
Abramovich’s colleague Guy Peleg described Shimron as a very inconsequential figure in the case. Channel 10’s Ayala Hasson said many of the problematic events in the case occurred before Shimron was hired by Ganor.
But Abramovich revealed Wednesday that Ganor, who is turning state’s witness, told police that Shimron kept every promise he made him, including that Israel would purchase three submarines and a number of other naval vessels from the German company. While Shimron’s associates said he was only paid a standard fee, Ganor told police that had the deal been completed, he would have paid him a substantial amount of money.
Channel 10’s Baruch Kra revealed that Ganor also tried to implicate Shimron in another scandal involving ThyssenKrupp’s role in controversial attempts to relocate a chemical plant from Haifa. Chances are police will have to question Shimron on that case when he returns home. Former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz testified to police on Thursday.
So has the submarine scandal proven Shimron to be hopelessly corrupt or just uncharacteristically careless? Netanyahu’s critics are sure it is the former, while those who know Shimron well are convinced it must be the latter.
Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid has called the submarine affair Israel’s worst corruption scandal. He said Ganor employed Shimron due to his closeness to Netanyahu, not his expertise in submarines.
“It must be clear that your cousin who runs coalition negotiations for you cannot represent a submarine company,” newly elected Labor Party leader Avi Gabbay said in his July 10 victory speech at the Tel Aviv Fairgrounds.
Former Labor Knesset candidate and anti-corruption activist Eldad Yaniv, who closely follows the case, told the Post that former prime minister Ehud Olmert, former finance minister Avraham Hirchson, and Shas leader Arye Deri were also portrayed as too careful to get caught before they were convicted.
“Shimron is accused of a crime in the most corrupt episode in the history of the state,” Yaniv said.
“Everyone knew Shimron was part of the deal, including the Defense Ministry director-general and legal adviser and the Histadrut [labor federation] head. There is no way Netanyahu didn’t know, and when the investigation proves it, that is a conflict of interest and breach of trust for Netanyahu. Netanyahu not knowing about the sub deal is fake news.”
Yaniv said that because the submarines have the second-strike ability required to respond to an Iranian attack on Israel, the Mossad had to be a part of the deal, and because of the sensitive nature of the negotiations with Germany, Molcho was probably involved as well.
In response to the charges posed by Yaniv, Molcho told The Jerusalem Post
that he "never dealt with anything connected to submarines and never received instructions from the prime minister or anyone else on the issue." He concluded by saying that Yaniv's claim was "false and baseless."
“Shimron denies guilt like any suspect does, but we keep hearing about him being involved in more and more cases of corruption,” Yaniv said, citing Shimron’s connections to international billionaires Arnon Milchen and James Packer in the “expensive gift affair,” his advice to Netanyahu to tape Yediot Aharonot publisher Arnon Mozes in the newspaper collusion episode, and the statement he prepared for Netanyahu about his connections to the owner of the Bezeq phone company in that scandal.
“It is already extraordinarily corrupt that two lawyers who represent many public bodies and companies are the closest people to the prime minister, and everyone knows it,” Yaniv said, adding that Shimron has hinted on multiple occasions that Netanyahu does not pay him for his work.
Those who know Shimron see him completely differently. His lawyer Amit Hadad said he is not suspected of accepting or offering any bribes and that he was questioned only on peripheral issues in the submarine case. Hadad said the questioning proved there is no case against Shimron and the fact that he was allowed to leave the country at the height of the investigation speaks for itself.
When asked why he accepted Ganor as a client, even though he is so connected to Netanyahu, sources close to Shimron said Ganor represented a respected German company and that he keeps his business separate from his dealings with the prime minister, who does not know who Shimron’s clients are.
“I think in his state of mind he believed he was the best man for the job,” a source close to Shimron said. “He knows how to connect people. He’s one of the top lawyers in the country. He believes he did nothing wrong. He saw no conflict of interest, according to the conflict of interest agreement he signed that defines what he can and cannot do.”
The sources close to Shimron said they did not see him as the kind of person who would make a corrupt deal for money at the state’s expense. But they said he thrives on complicated cases and is confident in his ability to accomplish anything.
“He never struck me as the kind of person who would be involved if he knew there was something illegal in what he was doing,” a source close to him said. “I know him, and it’s just not him. He’s a mensch.”
Many former Netanyahu advisers were willing to speak about Shimron but they chose not to be identified, because they did not want to anger the prime minister or to be connected to his corruption probes.
One of them said he had received the impression from Shimron and Molcho that they never wanted the power Netanyahu gave them and they would have preferred to remain out of the limelight.
“They are serious, private, successful people and were successful without Bibi,” the former Netanyahu adviser said. “There are lawyers who are deal-breakers and there are lawyers who are deal-makers and they get the job done.”
The adviser speculated that Netanyahu was angry at Shimron for getting him embroiled in the sub scandal and betraying the prime minister’s trust. He said that knowing Netanyahu well, it did not make sense that he would make a deal with Germany in order to help his friend make money.
“Bibi would never do that for his friends or family,” the former adviser said. “He doesn’t do favors.
It’s ridiculous to think he would.
It’s not his personality. It doesn’t make any sense. He made the deal because he thought it was right for Israel’s security, and he thinks he knows better than everyone. That’s his personality.”
Asked why he thought Shimron took the job with Ganor, the former Netanyahu adviser said Shimron had made a career of being careful and that this was a lapse in which his arrogance about his own abilities went to his head.
“He should have realized his clients see him as the prime minister’s friend and distanced himself,” the former adviser said. “He is honest, maintains the law, and is very smart, but he wasn’t careful enough here.”
Unlike other former advisers, Jerusalem strategist Mitchell Barak, who worked for Netanyahu from 1991 to 1995, chose to speak on record in favor of Shimron. He said he has known Shimron for 25 years, has watched him deal with sensitive issues like campaign fund-raising, and found him to be as straight as can be.
Barak expressed confidence that Shimron built a “Chinese wall separating between Netanyahu and his clients” and that he would not have taken the job with Ganor if he felt there would be any conflict of interest.
“I’d be shocked if he did anything wrong,” Barak said. “He is very aware of what the law is and that he is under intense scrutiny because of his relationship with Netanyahu.
He knows that everything he does is being watched and he would have to answer for it. He’s straight by the letter and spirit of the law, without any legal shenanigans.”