Was Benjamin Netanyahu involved in dirty deals in the purchase of submarines from German defense company ThyssenKrupp? Israeli lawyer Eliad Shraga accuses the German judiciary and politicians of not helping to resolve the issue.
DER SPIEGEL: Mr. Shraga, you have been fighting for years to hold longtime Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accountable for corruption in the submarine scandal. Are you happy that he is now out of office?
Shraga: I am not leading a personal feud against him. We are fighting corruption on all levels. I want to see a thorough investigation of the purchase of submarines and corvettes from ThyssenKrupp. This is why we have filed a petition to the Supreme Court in Jerusalem to force the establishment of a national committee of inquiry. And we hope that the judges will order the attorney general to begin a comprehensive investigation into Netanyahu and of all others involved.
About Eliad Shraga
Eliad Shraga, 62, is a lawyer and has headed the NGO Movement for Quality Government for more than 30 years. He has uncovered numerous corruption scandals, including the one involving former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
DER SPIEGEL: “Case 3000,” as the affair is called in Israel, centers around the sale of submarines and corvettes from the German defense company ThyssenKrupp to the Israeli Defense Force (IDF). Witnesses in the defense apparatus claim that Netanyahu and his office put pressure on them to purchase the vessels.
Shraga: The Israeli navy and Defense Ministry did not want those additional submarines at all. The gold standard is five. That is financially sustainable, because the maintenance of submarines is very expensive. Israel’s defense budget is limited — it is like a short blanket with many pulling from the ends. There was tremendous opposition within the defense establishment to the purchase of additional submarines and there was also a decision that the purchase of the corvettes would be made through an international tender. That is why the bribe money served to overcome these obstacles so that Israel would buy super-expensive vessels that it really didn’t need. And it appears that that bribe money is coming from Germany. If our suspicion is proven right, it would mean that our defense force, Israel’s holiest of holies, has been stained by corruption. This would be unforgivable, because it threatens Israel’s security.
DER SPIEGEL: Who is it that is supposed to have paid the bribes? And do you have proof?
Shraga: All the signs that we see point to ThyssenKrupp as the source of the funds. It seems that the company urgently needed sale contracts and was willing to overlook the rules to obtain them. According to the indictment filed by Israel’s state prosecutor, the bribing was managed by ThyssenKrupp’s representative in Israel at that time, Miki Ganor. This is what was discovered by the investigation conducted by the Israeli police. Ganor, who was indicted together with others, took high commissions of at least 10 million euros. He is alleged to have bribed influential people in the military and the security apparatus in order get Thyssenkrupp the bid.SPIEGEL International
DER SPIEGEL: And what does Netanyahu have to do with all this? His former chief of staff has been indicted, but so far he has only been questioned as a witness.
Shraga: Ganor was installed as a representative of ThyssenKrupp only after Netanyahu became prime minister. He is an acquaintance of Netanyahu’s personal lawyer, who is also his (the ex-prime minister’s) cousin. Ganor’s predecessor was forced out, although he had proven his worth for a long time by managing earlier submarine deals. Even though all the previous deals went through ThyssenKrupp and him, suddenly there was a desperate need for a change and for no apparent reason. Our research has revealed that Netanyahu himself had a financial interest in the success of ThyssenKrupp through ownership because he and another cousin of his owned shares in a major subcontractor. At one point, Netanyahu sold his shares in SeaDrift with a profit nearly 10 times more than he had paid. These details only came out after Netanyahu in 2015 pushed for the purchase of three more submarines from Germany against the will of his defense minister. The additional submarine contract alone was worth about 1.5 billion euros.
DER SPIEGEL: The entire Israeli fleet is comprised of submarines from Germany. The German federal government also provides financial support for arms deliveries to the Israeli navy. For the last three submarines alone, a price reduction of 500 million euros was given that came at the expense of taxpayers. And now you’re saying that Israel didn’t actually need those submarines? If that’s true, then the German government and the federal parliament were deceived.
Shraga: Already submarine number six was pushed through by Netanyahu against the opinion of the Israeli army and Defense Ministry. About 50 generals, former defense ministers and chiefs of staff provided us with affidavits, in which they confirm that the armament deals in question were not carried out using the proper procedures and went against the will of almost everyone in the IDF involved. These people agreed to add their affidavits in support of our petition at the High Court. But that is not the only issue — it appears that to obtain the deal, Netanyahu agreed to the German request to sell advanced submarines to Egypt. This agreement deviated from long-standing Israeli policy and was given surreptitiously without others, including the defense minister, knowing about it until is was too late.
DER SPIEGEL: Chancellor Merkel made the selling of German submarines to Egypt dependent on the consent of the Israeli government, and Netanyahu gave the green light. Should Merkel have had doubts regarding the deal?
Shraga: Nobody blames Angela Merkel. She is a highly respected person; the Israeli people admire her. I don’t believe that she has anything to do with this murky business. But the bottom line is that we are talking about German economic interests. Merkel had to preserve the German industry. Unfortunately, this is not the first time that German companies have been involved in corruption in Israel. Siemens, for example, had to pay a significant fine when it became clear they were involved in bribery in connection with purchases made by the Israel Electric Company.
DER SPIEGEL: In his affidavit, former defense minister Ehud Barak said that the delivery of advanced German submarines to Egypt threatens Israel’s security.
Shraga: The Defense Ministry only agreed to earlier deliveries to Egypt under the condition that the submarines are inferior to ours. Although we have a peace treaty with Egypt, in 2012, after the fall of Hosni Mubarak, we could see how Egypt under the Muslim Brotherhood became a threat overnight.
DER SPIEGEL: Why would an Israeli prime minister put his country’s security at risk? Netanyahu himself was an officer in an elite unit. His brother, who was killed in an anti-terror operation, is viewed as a war hero.
Shraga: That is one of the central questions that has to be answered. We therefor demand an investigation — not only in Israel, but also in Germany.
DER SPIEGEL: Do you feel you are getting the support of the German political and judicial system in your effort to shed light on the affair?
Shraga: No, I do not understand why the public prosecutor in Bochum recently stopped investigations into ThyssenKrupp. The responsible manager at the time was Walter Freitag, who it appears is no longer living in Germany. I think he is trying to avoid having to deal with this issue.
DER SPIEGEL: The public prosecutor stopped the investigations because “there was no sufficient suspicion for relevant criminal acts.”
Shraga: If you do not investigate, you do not collect evidence. In Israel we, as a small NGO, succeeded in finding witnesses and collecting 50 affidavits. Israel’s state prosecutor has collected sufficient evidence to indict ThyssenKrupp’s representative. And the public prosecutor of Bochum wants to tell us that it didn’t find anything?
DER SPIEGEL: Has any German official or person ever contacted you in order to learn about your findings?
Shraga: No, never and nobody. The Germans are not interested in this affair. It is bizarre: We are working with the law firms in many countries in order to solve this case. Only in Germany, we had to look for lawyers for a long time. We received many rejections. We also haven’t found a German politician who supports our matter of concern.
DER SPIEGEL: ThyssenKrupp claims that an internal investigation has not shown any hints of corruption. The contract with Ganor was suspended in 2017 and then cancelled.
Shraga: And why doesn’t ThyssenKrupp publish what exactly they did investigate? We will not give up, we will not let them get away with sweeping this under the rug. We are seriously considering the possibility of taking legal action against ThyssenKrupp here in Israel to force them to deal with this issue. Then, we might learn how much they really tried to shed light on this affair. If ThyssenKrupp thinks that they can bribe people here in Israel and then run away, they are mistaken.
DER SPIEGEL: German-Israeli relations are extremely sensitive. Can you understand the German caution in the submarine affair at least a little bit?
Shraga: I am convinced that the attitude of German chancellors, foremost Angela Merkel, is driven only by good intentions. But goodwill should not block their view on an affair that has harmed taxpayers in both countries massively. Corruption is only good for those few who profit from it and causes harm to everyone else. Many Israelis would be grateful to Germany, if the truth finally came to light.