Netanyahu firing driver state witnesses is conflict of interest -A-G office

Netanyahu has allegedly fired three drivers that are witnesses in his corruption case.

 Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convenes a weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem, January 8, 2023 (photo credit: REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun/Pool)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convenes a weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem, January 8, 2023
(photo credit: REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun/Pool)

The removal of three drivers to the prime minister, who are also state witnesses to Benjamin Netanyahu's corruption trial is a conflict of interest and should be reversed, Deputy Attorney-General Dr. Gil Limon advised on Tuesday.

Limon said the removal of the drivers, who had served during nine different governments over 30 years, contravened a conflict of interest arrangement organized by previous attorney-general Avichai Mandelblit in 2020.

PMO rejects conflict of interest claims 

The Prime Minister's Office on Wednesday evening rejected the claim that the conflict of interest arrangement included the relevant witnesses.

Netanyahu at the time had argued against the arrangement that conditioned his forming a government, but in 2021 the High Court upheld most of the attorney-general’s arrangement. One of the clauses held that Netanyahu was not to knowingly take actions that would directly or indirectly impact or influence witnesses in his trials. Actions that unknowingly impacted witnesses were permitted.

Limon said that any administrative decisions pertaining to civil servants who were witnesses should be handled with special caution and care, especially if they were in the employ of the Prime Minister's Office. Limon said that this caution would be needed to prevent even the appearance of an attempt to influence or damage the ongoing legal process. 

 PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu leads a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s office in Jerusalem, last week. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90) PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu leads a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s office in Jerusalem, last week. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

The PMO chastised the A-G's office for not advising in real time that the removals could be problematic.

"It's unfortunate that the A-G's office decided not to act in accordance with the recommendations of the High Court to warn in cases such as these,” said the PMO.

"It's unfortunate that the A-G's office decided not to act in accordance with the recommendations of the High Court to warn in cases such as these,

The PMO

Why were the drivers fired by Netanyahu?

The drivers were removed from their position at the very beginning of January by the PMO's chief of staff. According to Channel 13, the PMO said that the drivers were not removed because they were witnesses and that there were other drivers who were witnesses and had retained their positions.

According to N12, the unofficial reason that Netanyahu could not trust the former drivers was that they had worked for former prime ministers Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid.

The PMO clarified on Wednesday that the employees were not fired, and remained within the office.

Private petitioners and NGOs have pushed the courts and A-G's officer to organize a new arrangement with Netanyahu on conflict of interest. The Movement for Quality Government in Israel has requested that in addition to renewing the previous clauses, limitations on regulating the judicial system and the appointment of legal officials should be added.

Petitioners have also issued requests for interim orders to prevent Netanyahu and his coalition from making any changes to the legal system until this arrangement could be brought before the High Court of Justice.

Last Wednesday, Justice Minister Yariv Levin presented a proposal for a judicial reform that would alter the powers of the judiciary, the independence of government legal advisors, and the selection of judges. MK Simcha Rothman expanded on the process on Wednesday. The proposed reforms have been met with significant backlash from the political opposition.

On Saturday former justice Aharon Barak was questioned if he had attempted to reach a plea deal with Netanyahu over concerns that the prime minister would pass a judicial reform similar to that of Levin's.

Barak claimed that Netanyahu was close to accepting a plea bargain and admitting to the crimes of fraud and breach of trust.