Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called for a corruption investigation to be opened into his main political rival, head of the Blue and White (Kahol Lavan) alliance Benny Gantz, after a 50 million shekel ($13.7 million) business deal between the latter’s company and the Israel Police came to light.
Israel’s State Comptroller, Joseph Shapira, yesterday revealed that the Israel Police awarded a project worth 50 million shekels to Fifth Dimension, a cyber-security firm at which Gantz was chairman of the board at the time.
According to Haaretz, Shapira found that “the job was awarded to Fifth Dimension without [the Israel Police] inviting bids from other suppliers,” a move which violates regulations requiring that the police put out a public tender for its contracts.
Though Shapira’s report did not mention Fifth Dimension or Gantz by name, referring only to “Company A”, the Jerusalem Post explains that “the timing and developments described regarding ‘Company A’ in the report match up with Fifth Dimension’s business dealings with the police”. The report detailed how “‘Company A’ was given an unfair advantage [by being] present during internal police meetings about whom to choose for the supplier role that Company A was competing for”.
It added: “The police even granted ‘Company A’ use of proprietary police technology at a discount to help it develop its solution, which the police wanted it to produce.”
Fifth Dimension is also believed to have provided false information about its capacity to fulfill the contract requested, claiming it had other security-related customers and products ready for use when in fact, Haaretz explains, this was not the case.
The revelations could have far-reaching repercussions for Israel’s upcoming general election on 9 April, in which Gantz and Netanyahu are currently polling neck-and-neck. Netanyahu was quick to capitalise on the State Comptroller’s report, accusing Gantz of corruption and writing on Twitter: “Investigate Benny Gantz now.”
Netanyahu’s Likud party has also called on Israel’s Attorney General, Avichai Mandelblit, to launch an investigation into the Blue and White leader, saying: “Gantz illegally contacted former Police Commissioner Roni Alsheikh in an attempt to fraudulently take NIS 50 million of the public’s money for the Fifth Dimension, which he headed.” The statement continued: “According to the State Comptroller’s report, Gantz’s company lied to the public tenders committee, Gantz and Alsheikh acted without transparency, and Gantz’s company caused the police to lose NIS 4 million – a loss that would have ballooned to NIS 50 million had Gantz not gone bankrupt beforehand.”
Fifth Dimension declared bankruptcy in December after one of its main investors, Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg, failed to transfer the money he had committed to the company. This was due to US sanctions being imposed on Vekselberg in a bid to reprimand Russia for suspected meddling in the 2016 US election.
Several high-profile Likud Knesset Members (MKs) have also turned the allegations into election puns, dubbing the affair “Case 50 million” – a play on the myriad corruption investigations against Netanyahu which have come to be known by their case numbers 1000, 2000 and 4000.
Meanwhile, Gantz and his Blue and White alliance have refuted allegations of corruption, stressing that the State Comptroller’s report focuses on the misconduct of the Israel Police and not Fifth Dimension.
Blue and White said there was no wrongdoing by Gantz, instead of criticising Netanyahu’s reaction as a desperate attempt to smear his main election rival. “Bibi has lost all restraint. Bibi has lost it,” Blue and White said, adding: “He has become a factory of slander, mudslinging and ugly lies. There is only one reason. He is going to lose and he knows it.”
Blue and White will be keen to bury the revelations given that Gantz has tried to paint himself as an alternative to Netanyahu, who he accuses of being too preoccupied with battling allegations of corruption to deal effectively with Israel’s security. The party yesterday continued this line of defence, trying to redirect attention to the “serious security scandal [which] continues to hover over Netanyahu,” referring to the so-called “submarine affair”.
The “submarine affair”, or Case 3000, resurfaced last week when new details pertaining to Netanyahu’s potential involvement were revealed. The case refers to a series of allegations against close associates of Netanyahu, who it is claimed lobbied Israeli defence officials to sign deals with German shipbuilding firm ThyssenKrupp. Though enough evidence reportedly exists to indict Netanyahu’s associates for bribery and fraud, until this week Netanyahu was not suspected of involvement and was only being interviewed as a witness.
However, the State Comptroller’s Office recently found that Netanyahu and his cousin, Nathan Milikowsky, were shareholders in Texas-based steel factory SeaDrift which was later absorbed into GrafTech International, a long-time supplier of ThyssenKrupp. Though Netanyahu claims he sold his shares to his cousin after he was elected prime minister in 2009, the State Prosecutor’s Office is now considering launching a criminal investigation into the sale, saying that Netanyahu had a “clear conflict of interest” at the time the deal was made.