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17 days ago
Netanyahu's former aide turns state's witness in bribery cases
August 4, 2017 / 10:57 AM / 17 days ago

Netanyahu's former aide turns state's witness in bribery cases

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem July 30, 2017.Amir Cohen

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - A former chief of staff to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has agreed to provide testimony on behalf of the state in two graft cases in which the Israeli leader has been questioned as a suspect, court papers showed on Friday.

The decision by Ari Harow to turn state's witness as part of a plea bargain in his own, separate corruption case adds a new dimension to a long-running investigation involving Netanyahu.

The four-term premier has denied any wrongdoing. His family spokesman said Netanyahu would withstand what he described as a "witch-hunt" designed to force him from office.

In a Facebook video posting, Netanyahu dismissed Friday's developments as "the inevitable scandal-of-the-week".

"I would like to tell you, citizens of Israel, that I do not heed background noises," he said. "I continue to work for you."

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 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, the conservative Netanyahu, who last won elections in 2015, has weathered several scandals and police inquiries. His approval ratings are generally solid, putting him ahead of potential challengers.

Police are also investigating Netanyahu's wife over her use of official funds.

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

Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Luke Baker and Jeremy Gaunt

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