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Knesset committee nixes idea for state comptroller probe of submarine purchases

The Knesset State Control Committee on Monday voted against a proposal for the state comptroller to look at how state authorities handled the purchase of naval vessels from Germany, in a deal that has become the center of a major graft scandal.

The committee voted seven to three against a state comptroller probe following a heated debate during which coalition chairman MK Miki Zohar (Likud) threatened to have committee chief MK Ofer Shelah of the opposition Yesh Atid-Telem party booted from his post.

The high-profile Case 3000 investigation has snared several close associates of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but not the premier himself, on suspicion that they received illicit funds as part of a massive graft scheme in the multi-billion -shekel state purchase of naval vessels from Germany. Known as the submarine affair, the case has also included allegations by Netanyahu’s political opponents that he may have earned millions of shekels off the deal.

Shelah said during the discussion that “Netanyahu has a lot to hide and to explain.”

“This is exactly what a state comptroller is for, and this is exactly why Bibi instructed his people to prevent [the comptroller] from investigating,” Shelah said, using the prime minister’s nickname.

MK Moshe Ya’alon, also of Yesh Atid-Telem, and a former defense minister under Netanyau, backed Shelah, and called for the establishment of a state commission of inquiry into the matter.

Denouncing the matter as “pointless,” Zohar claimed that there is no legal way to have the state comptroller look into the affair. He went on to accuse Shelah of using the committee to hound the prime minister.

“It may be that, in light of this unprofessional conduct that undermines the good standing of the State Control Committee, it is time to reconsider continuing your tenure as chairman of the committee,” Zohar said.

Attorney Eliad Shraga, of the Movement for Quality Government in Israel, told the committee that a petition his watchdog group had filed with the High Court calling for a commission of inquiry into the submarine affair was backed by many former top officials from the political and defense establishments.

“In fact, the entire defense leadership is behind the demand to set up a commission of inquiry on the matter,” Shraga said.

He was interrupted by Likud lawmakers who accused him of having a political agenda and being “obsessed” with the prime minister.

One of the lawmakers who voted against the proposed state comptroller inquiry was Blue and White MK Hila Shai Vazan.

During election campaigning last year Blue and White Party leader Benny Gantz, who at the time was seeking to oust Netanyahu from office, vowed to set up a commission of inquiry into the submarine affair.

At the time, Blue and White claimed Netanyahu had made NIS 16 million ($4.5 million) from selling an ownership stake in a company that supplies some materials to German shipbuilder Thyssenkrupp.

But following the March 2020 elections, Gantz joined with Netanyahu in a unity government and is now defense minister as well as holding the newly created role of alternate prime minister.

The police investigation, which centers on the $2 billion purchase of submarines and combat ships from Thyssenkrupp, has already seen officers recommend bribery charges against Netanyahu’s attorney and cousin David Shimron, his former bureau chief David Sharan, his former pick for National Security adviser Avriel Bar-Yosef, former head of the navy Eliezer Marom, and former minister Eliezer Sandberg. Netanyahu has been interviewed as a witness in the case, but is not a suspect.

Shimron represented Thyssenkrupp in the sale and is suspected of trading his influence over the prime minister in return for a hefty cut of the deal. Police believe he pushed for a NIS 6 billion ($1.5 billion) defense contract to purchase submarines for the Israeli Navy and other vessels to protect the country’s offshore natural gas fields.

Netanyahu’s own role in the purchase decision, including his insistence that Thyssenkrupp be exempted from the usual Defense Ministry tender process, raised concerns of a conflict of interest for Shimron.

Source: Stuart Winer – TOI