Gantz considers Defense Ministry investigation of Submarine Affair

Justices expected to support A-G rejection of charges

High Court of Justice prepares for hearing on whether Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu can form the next government, May 3, 2020 (photo credit: COURTESY HIGH COURT OF JUSTICE)
High Court of Justice prepares for hearing on whether Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu can form the next government, May 3, 2020
Defense Minister Benny Gantz attacked Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday when he floated the idea of establishing a Defense Ministry committee to investigate the so-called Submarine Affair.
He was referring to an ongoing scandal involving a multibillion-dollar submarine deal with Germany’s ThyssenKrupp AG conglomerate in 2016, also dubbed Case 3000, in which critics of Netanyahu have accused him of corruption despite his being cleared by law-enforcement authorities.
Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit has alleged that senior Israeli officials were bribed to advocate for the purchase of unnecessary extra submarines and military boats from Thyssenkrupp. But he has resisted calls to implicate the prime minister.
“The subject of the submarines is serious, so it deserves to be investigated,” Gantz told Ynet. “What can be done within the defense establishment is limited to what can be done within the defense establishment. Nevertheless, I am familiar with the section that allows me to set up an investigation within the Defense Ministry.”
The Likud responded angrily to Gantz’s comments.
“Everyone knows that the Submarine Affair was meticulously scanned by all law-enforcement agencies, even those known for their hostility toward Prime Minister Netanyahu, and that even they were forced to state that the allegations amounted to nothing,” the Likud said in a statement. “It’s time for Gantz to work for the citizens and not for the polls.”
A Likud spokesman posted on social media a video of Gantz saying four months ago that he was satisfied with the attorney-general’s decision to not probe the matter.
“We formed a government together,” Gantz said then. “Why would I work against the government from inside the government?”
The opposition Yesh Atid-Telem and Meretz factions announced they would call for a vote in the Knesset next week to establish a commission of inquiry into the Submarine Affair to test Gantz.
Late Thursday night, Mandelblit announced he was closing the Stocks Affair.
In the Stocks Affair, Netanyahu benefited by NIS 16 million from a stock deal with his cousin and tycoon Natan Milikovsky between the years 2007-2010, allegedly without properly reporting the gain to the State Comptroller’s Office.
Critics have gone further and said there was even a connection between Milikovsky’s business dealings and Case 3000 that could prove a direct connection between Netanyahu and the Submarine Affair’s bribery scheme.
But both the police and Deputy State Attorney Liat Ben-Ari believed that the connection between Netanyahu and Milikovsky as relatives as well as the 13 years that had passed made an investigation inadvisable.
Mandelblit accepted this recommendation in closing the case. Even the charges he might have probed Netanyahu for had expired in terms of the statute of limitations, he told the High Court of Justice.
Mandelblit also repudiated that the Stock Affair or any new evidence recently brought forth could justify treating Netanyahu as a suspect in Case 3000.
Also on Thursday, the High Court heard a petition by the Movement for Quality Government in Israel, asking that it compel Mandelblit to reverse his decision not to treat Netanyahu as a suspect in Case 3000.
The High Court heard arguments behind closed doors due to national security concerns, and part of the proceedings were held with only the state’s lawyers present and the petitioners outside the courtroom. Although Netanyahu was questioned by police investigators, he was considered a witness and not a suspect since there was no direct evidence of his involvement in any illegal conduct.
The High Court has extensively delayed hearing the petition and is expected to uphold Mandelblit’s decision not to treat Netanyahu as a suspect.
Among those close to Netanyahu and already implicated in the deal are lawyer David Shimron, a confidante and cousin of Netanyahu’s; David Sharan, a former chief of staff in the Prime Minister’s Office; and Avriel Bar-Yosef, a former deputy national security adviser – all of whom are expected to be indicted by Mandelblit.
But the attorney-general concluded that there is no proof that Netanyahu knew about the scheme; at most, he pushed for buying the vessels under suspicious circumstances.
Other top officials likely to be indicted include: Eliezer Marom, former commander of the Israel Navy, who is accused of bribery, money-laundering and tax crimes; and two aides of Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz, Rami Taib and Yitzhak Liber, who are accused of serving as middle men in the bribery scheme, and money-laundering and aiding in tax fraud, respectively. Former science minister Eliezer Zandberg is also accused of bribery, money-laundering, breach of trust and tax crimes while he was running the Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund.
Late Thursday, the High Court issued a decision that the state and the petitioning NGO should reach an agreement by October 25 about what aspects of the proceedings can be released to the public. In the meantime, the High Court placed a gag order on all court materials related to the case.
Separately, the Movement for Quality Government demanded that Mandelblit investigate whether someone leaked to the media aspects of affidavits delivered to the court in a sealed folder.
“An investigation should be opened immediately to see who is trying to disrupt and sabotage an investigation meant to expose the biggest corruption scandal in Israeli history,” said Eliad Shraga, founder and chairman of the board of the Movement for Quality Government in Israel.
Although the police investigation into the case ended in February, Netanyahu’s detractors continue to argue that he was directly involved in the corrupt deal and, at the very least, had a conflict of interest.