Investigators: Netanyahu fingered in fraud probe by former aide
Benjamin Netanyahu has called the years-long probe into alleged political corruption in his administration a “witch hunt,” which has a familiar ring to American ears these days. Prosecutors in Israel may have a little more magic, however, at least when it comes to conjuring up witnesses. The prime minister’s former chief of staff turned into a willing material witness in a plea bargain announced today in court filings, and the assumption is that prosecutors cut the deal to get to the top man:
Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has been named as a suspect in two investigations into allegations of “fraud, breach of trust and bribes” as his former chief of staff had signed a deal with prosecutors to testify against him.
The suspicions against Netanyahu, who denies any wrongdoing, were revealed in a court application by detectives on Thursday seeking a gag order on reporting details of negotiations with Ari Harow, the former chief of staff, to become a state witness.
The negotiations were concluded on Friday with Harow signing a deal in which he agreed to testify in the two cases. …
While the scope of the investigations in the so-called cases 1000 and 2000 – the first about gifts from wealthy benefactors and the second over attempts to sway media coverage – have long been known, it is the first time Netanyahu has been publicly designated as a suspect.
Harow didn’t snag a Get Out of Jail Free card from prosecutors. He’ll do some prison time and pay a steep fine, according to Reuters:
Harow served two stints as Netanyahu’s chief of staff before resigning in 2015 amid allegations he had improperly handled private business affairs. The court injunction said he had turned state’s witness but barred publication of any details about what he would tell investigators or testify to.
Under the deal, Harow agreed to confess to fraud and breach of trust, the court injunction said. He will be sentenced to six months’ imprisonment, commuted to community service, and a fine of 700,000 shekels ($194,000). …
Another former Netanyahu aide who worked with Harow said on Wednesday that his testimony could be a “bombshell” against the prime minister, given the extent of his knowledge.
According to the Times of Israel, Harow has given prosecutors enough to press for criminal charges against Netanyahu. His testimony might have provided police with first-hand knowledge of the corrupt deals:
Israeli police are expected to recommend charges be brought against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a pair of corruption cases against the Israeli premier, amid a newly signed deal with a key associate of the prime minister to turn state’s witness.
Hebrew media reported Friday that police will recommend filing indictments against Netanyahu in two cases — Case 1000 and Case 2000 — as the investigations appear to be strengthened by “significant material” provided by Netanyahu’s former chief of staff and aide, Ari Harow. …
Channel 2 reported Friday that Harow was sent by Netanyahu to finalize the deal with Mozes, giving him — and police — first-hand knowledge of the suspected deal. Harow reportedly gave police details on the understandings reached between Netanyahu and Mozes, strengthening the police case beyond recordings discovered on Harow’s computer of their meetings in late 2014 and early 2015. This information comes from a separate police investigation into Harow’s affairs on suspicion he used his ties to Netanyahu to advance his private business interests.
At the moment, though, most of this is speculation. The court has a gag order in place on Harow’s proffer, which makes it difficult to know just how extensive his testimony actually will be. The fact that Harow didn’t completely escape jail time and a big fine might mean that his testimony is less conclusive than prosectors hoped — or it could mean that his hand in the corruption was heavier than presumed, too. Thus far the police have not publicly named Netanyahu as a suspect, but acknowledged yesterday that he had become a figure of interest in probes involving “bribery, fraud and breach of trust.”
What happens if Netanyahu gets charged? He will be under no obligation to resign, but a coalition government in Israel’s fractious multi-party system would probably not stand for long with an indicted leader at the top. Channel 2 reported further that Likud leaders have begun contingency planning, while other parties within the coalition are biding their time. For now, anyway.
Before the start of Shabbat, Netanyahu address the nation in this Twitter video. It’s entirely in Hebrew, but the Times of Israel distills it down to this message: “I want to tell you, citizens of Israel, I don’t pay attention to the background noises, I continue in my work on behalf of you. Shabbat shalom.” Netanyahu has managed to elude his opponents on more than one occasion, so don’t be surprised if this turns out differently than the way it looks at the moment.