11 September 2017

Netanyahu's Corruption Cases: Is He On His Way Out?

As impeachment, obstruction of justice and conflict of interest are daily preoccupations in Trump Presidency, few people pay attention to what his happening to his old buddy Bibi Netanyahu.

The other walking conflict of interest.

Netanyahu is facing four separate corruption investigations and on top of all that, Israel's top prosecutor has just announced that he is thinking of charging his wife Sara Netanyahu with fraud and breach of trust.
Prosecutors say Sara Netanyahu and a senior official, Ezra Seidoff, claimed costs for food prepared externally and for hiring private chefs, between September 2010 and March 2013, whilst covering up the fact that the residence also employed a cook. State funding for both is not allowed. 
"In this way, hundreds of meals from restaurants and chefs were fraudulently received in the order of 359,000 shekels," a statement from the attorney general's office said.
359,000 shekels is about $100,000 but Haaretz puts the figure at 400,000 shekels or $111,850.

If Avichai Mandelblit, a Netanyahu appointee,  proceeds with the charges it will be a serious blow for Bibi. But far worse are the four dossiers about him.

Let's take a look.

Case 1000

For years, Israeli billionaire movie producer Arnon Milchan (the owner of New Regency Films) lavished Bibi and Sara Netanyahu with expensive gifts like cigars, champagne and even jewellry.
The estimated value of these gifts from a friend, as Netanyahu describes them—and which Milchan reportedly told police “made him feel sick”—amounted to a hundred and eighty thousand dollars.
Netanyahu always maintained that these were just friendly gestures and no quid pro quo was ever expected or provided.

Until recently, it looked like the only advantage these gifts got Milchan was this:
Netanyahu successfully lobbied Secretary of State John Kerry for the renewal of Milchan’s American visa, which allowed Milchan to avoid paying millions of dollars in Israeli taxes.
At the end of August, police uncovered a very significant Netanyahu intervention that benefitted Milchan immensely.
The police have prima facie evidence according to which Netanyahu used all his weight to convince British Jewish billionaire Len Blavatnik to acquire shares in Israeli Channel 10. A significant portion of those shares were held by Milchan in an investment gone bad, in which he stood to lose tens of millions of dollars. When Blavatnik acceded to Netanyahu’s request and acquired the channel, which he still controls, it redeemed Milchan's failed investment. The acquisition by Blavatnik was worth a fortune to Milchan.
That's definitely a major quo for a pile of expensive quid.

And Milchan is cooperating with the police.

Case 2000

This one involves Netanyahu negotiating with one media mogul for positive coverage for his government in exchange for limiting the circulation of another paper.
Image Flash 90
The police have tapes of Netanyahu negotiating with Yedioth publisher Arnon Mozes, in an apparent effort to skew the daily's coverage in favor of the prime minister. In exchange Netanyahu would supposedly help restore Yedioth’s status to the top of Israel's media industry by spearheading legislation that would hamstring Israel Hayom, the free newspaper owned by American casino tycoon Sheldon Adelson. 
Or, alternatively, perhaps the premier would convince his friend Adelson to restrict the freebie’s distribution.
Netanyahu even gave a list of Yedioth journalists he wanted sidelined.

But when the tapes became public, he claimed that he was not serious about his offer and he was just saying those thing to please Mozes. The problem with his denial is that:
According to a recent Channel Two report broadcast, Adelson told Israeli police investigators that Netanyahu had tried to persuade him to withdraw plans for weekend supplements at Israel Hayom. That would indicate that Netanyahu was indeed intent upon reaching a deal with Mozes.
As a result, Netanyahu has recently been named a suspect in the case.

Even worse for him, there is now a witness willing to point a finger at him.

You see, the conversation was accidentally uncovered when police seized his former chief of staff Ari Harow's telephone. Harow was the point man in the negotiations with Mozes.

He has now agreed to testify against his former boss to avoid jail time in another case.

Case 3000

This one is the most serious and consequential file as it involves bribery and corruption in the military procurement process.

Israel has a small fleet of Dolphin class submarines that are capable of firing cruise missiles with nuclear warheads. There are six of them. In 2015, Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) recommended that one of them should be retired in 2019 and a new one should be purchased.

Later on, the head of the National Security Council discovered that Netanyahu ordered three more subs from Germany at a cost of one and a half billion dollars.

The then Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon conducted a review to ensure that the Prime Minister was not given misleading information, like IDF needing and requesting not one but four submarines. Nobody had produced such a memo.

A few months later, Ya'alon's office was informed that Netanyahu was going to sign the four-submarine deal during a state visit to Germany. Except no one knew that this deal was on the agenda.
“The issue was examined in the chief of staff’s office, in the Navy headquarters and in the Planning Directorate,” Yediot Ahronot’s Alex Fishman wrote, last November. “No one in each of these three offices had a clue about the new submarine deal.”
When Ya'alon confronted Netanyahu about no such request coming from the IDF, Bibi told him that it was only a Memorandum of Understanding that he was going to sign. The subtext being, there is nothing serious, no need to get worked up.

But within a couple of months, Netanyahu forced Ya'alon to resign as Minister of Defense, ostensibly on the basis of other disagreements, replacing him with extreme right winger Avigdor Lieberman.

At some point, the initial bidding process prepared by the Ministry of Defense was scrapped and the contract for four subs was awarded to ThyssenKrupp.

Photo: EPA, Yaron Brenner
ThyssenKrupp is represented in Israel by Miki Ganor and his commission for the deal was about $45 million.

Ganor's lawyer is Netanyahu's cousin, confidant and personal lawyer David Shimron. In fact, Jerusalem Post called him Netanyahu's right hand man.

And according to Ganor, Shimron was to receive 20 percent of Ganor's cut, which works out to $9 million. 

It turns out the decision for a no-bid procurement was made by Netanyahu with Shimron's pushing. Shimron left a paper trail.
Channel 10 reported that, in July of 2014, the Defense Ministry’s legal adviser had sent an e-mail to the Defense Ministry’s director-general saying that David Shimron, the lawyer representing the German firm’s agent, had called him. Shimron wanted to know, the e-mail said, if “we are halting the bidding process in order to negotiate with his client, as was requested of us by the Prime Minister.”
The problem for Shimron is that Miki Ganor decided to turn state's witness recently. He is providing the police with names of officers he bribed and of other people who pushed the contract through the administration.

As a result, David Shimron was placed under house arrest, though he was subsequently granted permission to go on a trip to the US.

The whole episode has proved to be very damaging for IDF's reputation.
The submarine affair now threatens the Israeli defense establishment and is lifting the veil over the Israeli defense acquisition process itself, which is worth tens of billions of dollars. Netanyahu's former chief of staff David Sharan was arrested Sept. 3 on suspicion of accepting bribes. (Sharan had also served as senior aide to Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz.) Others arrested were Brig. Gen. (res.) Shai Brosh, the former commander of Shayetet 13, Israel’s esteemed naval commando unit, and former minister Eliezer Sandberg, who is close to the Netanyahus.
Netanyahu says that he has no clue about his cousin and adviser Shimron's involvement in the case. Since the whole deal was handled at every turn by the Prime Minister's Office this is rather hard to believe.

Shimron’s law partner Isaac Molho, Netanyahu’s envoy on all sorts of secret diplomatic and other missions, may also be involved in Case 3000. One report says Molho represented the premier in talks with the Germans regarding a sensitive issue that may could have had something to do with the subs. If so, Molho represented the PM while his law partner represented the Germans’ agent. Under these circumstances, it is hard to buy Netanyahu’s claim that he didn’t know of Shimron’s involvement in the deal.
There is also this:
If Netanyahu did know about Shimron’s involvement with the submarines, he will face criminal charges in this affair as well. If he didn’t know, it could cause a lot of people to wonder if such as person is sufficiently competent to lead the country. The submarine and naval vessel deal is viewed as a strategic transaction involving Israeli national security, and as such, it was administered and led by the prime minister himself. Responsibility for the deal was placed on his shoulders alone. “I didn’t know” is an excuse that could extricate Netanyahu from criminal charges, but not from the public’s blame.
Case 4000

This is a fairly recent case and its relevance is in the fact that, as one scandal too many, it made defending Netanyahu very difficult.

The Bezeq affair, which is named after Israel's giant telco, erupted in July with State Comptroller Jospeh Shapira's report. He alleged that, Netanyahu, who was also Minister of Communication at some point, did not disclose that he was very good friends with Bezeq's owner Shaul Elovitch. As Minister he made many decisions that affected Bezeq and that's conflict of interest.

When Ha'aretz disclosed that Netanyahu was given positive coverage in Walla web portal which is owned by Bezeq, Netanyahu was prevented from handling matters concerning Bezeq.

The Director General of the Communications ministry was Avi Berger. Berger was trying to enact a broadband reform that would have negatively affect Bezeq's monopoly. So Netanyahu got rid of him and appointed Shlomo Filber as his replacement.
The [Shapira] report found that Shlomo Filber, director general of the Communications Ministry and a former top aide to Netanyahu, had been providing Bezeq with confidential documents and other information from which the company stood to benefit. 
Filber was sent to house arrest.

What Happens Now?

Avichai Mandelblit' recent announcement about Sara Netanyahu is a sign that the noose around the Prime Minister's neck is tightening.

Up to a few months ago, people thought that the Attorney General, a Netanyahu ally, would never go after him.
Avichai Mandelblit, the Attorney General, was appointed by Netanyahu. As Ruth Margalit noted last month, there is evidence that Mandelblit sat on compromising evidence for months. “When the thrust of the allegations is so powerful, they cannot ignore them,” Arad said. “But they can delay, control, and spin.”
Now he is actively investigating all these corruption cases.

The same aboutface is also true for the friendly media.
However, the real surprise comes from Israel Hayom, which for years has all but explicitly celebrated its strong ties with Netanyahu but now seems to concede as well that a metaphorical noose is tightening around Netanyahu’s neck.
Hayut Photo credit: Flash 90/ Channel 2 News
All of this came to fruition at a particularly bad time for Netanyahu.

His Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked (HaBayit HaYehudi) lost her fight to stop the appointment of Esther Hayut as Supreme Court's Chief Justice.

Daughter of Holocaust survivors, Hayut is a fiercely independent and brilliant jurist who is hated by all religious and right wing parties in Israel.

Her handling of the appeal of these corruption cases could prove to be critical for Netanyahu.

In any event, whatever happens next, this point is worth remembering.
Netanyahu has no intention of vacating his seat willingly, however, and will fight for it with all the means at his disposal. One of his political rivals in the Likud told Al-Monitor on the condition of anonymity, “Netanyahu won’t hesitate to burn down the house over its inhabitants. His personal [political] survival is more important to him than the public good.”
And, like his good buddy Donald Trump, this could involve a nice little war.

Perhaps an excursion into Syria? 

And why not?

All it takes is a permission from Putin. Trump's other buddy.

We live in scary times.

No comments:

Post a Comment