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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 20 June 2018

Former Netanyahu aide turns state witness in corruption cases

Ari Harow, who served two stints as chief of staff before resigning in 2015, is thought to have agreed the deal as part of a plea bargain in his own separate corruption case

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu is facing a number of damaging accusations. Ariel Schalit / Reuters
Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu is facing a number of damaging accusations. Ariel Schalit / Reuters

A former aide to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is to turn state witness in two graft cases in which the Israeli Prime Minister has been questioned as a suspect.

Ari Harow, who served two stints as chief of staff before resigning in 2015, is thought to have agreed the deal as part of a plea bargain in his own separate corruption case.

Court papers released on Friday show Harow will give evidence in two separate cases which Netanyahu has been quizzed over.

The Israeli leader, who has served four terms as premier, has denied any wrongdoing while a spokesman for his family said Netanyahu would resist the “witch-hunt” trying to force him out of office.

Netanyahu, 67, has been questioned under caution by police in two cases, one dealing with gifts given to him and his family by businessmen, and another related to conversations he held with an Israeli publisher.

An Israeli court injunction said the cases involved "suspicion of the commission of the felonies of bribery, fraud and breach of trust" but did not specify who might be charged for the crimes.

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).

Even if eventually indicted, Netanyahu would not be obliged by law to resign. His opponents have called on him to do so.

In his 11 years of office, Netanyahu, who last won elections in 2015, has weathered several scandals and police inquiries.

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.

In addition to the cases in which Harow will testify, police are currently investigating Netanyahu's wife over her use of official funds.

There is a separate investigation into a $2 billion purchase of German submarines, in which Netanyahu's personal lawyer also represented the local agent of the manufacturer. Netanyahu is not a suspect in that case.

The cases in which Harow is expected to testify have been dubbed "1,000" and "2,000" by Israeli police.

Case 1,000 involves Netanyahu and family members receiving gifts on a regular basis from two businessmen. Israeli media have reported that the gifts included cigars and champagne.

Case 2,000 involves a deal Netanyahu allegedly discussed with the owner of one of Israel's largest newspapers, Yedioth Ahronoth, for better coverage in return for curbs on competition from a free paper owned by U.S. casino mogul Sheldon Adelson. The latter paper has long supported the prime minister.