Netanyahu's former chief aide to testify in corruption probe

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Evidence given by former chief of staff Ari Harow could prove a 'bombshell' for Israeli prime minister, says another former aide

Netanyahu would not be required to step down if indicted (Reuters)
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Friday 4 August 2017 17:39 UTC
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A former chief of staff to Benjamin Netanyahu has agreed to testify on behalf of the state, over two cases in which the Israeli prime minister has been questioned as a suspect.

Commentators speculated that the testimony of Ari Harow could guarantee the indictment of the prime minister in two corruption cases, and a former aide called the news a  "bombshell" for the premier.  

Harow is expected to testify in two corruption cases that havee seen police question Netanyahu under caution on several occasions.

The cases concern gifts businessmen gave to the premier and his family, and conversations with an Israeli publisher over fixing favourable media coverage for Bibi. 

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.

The prime minister has denied any wrongdoing, and a family spokesperson has branded the proceedings against him a "witch hunt". 

In a video posted on Twitter, Netanyahu says: "Oh yes, we can't do without the inevitable scandal of the week, so I want to tell you, the citizens of Israel, I disregard the background noises and continue working for you."

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

Harow, who resigned as Netanyahu's chief of staff in 2015 amid claims he had improperly handled business affairs, agreed to testify as part of a plea bargain. 

Under the deal, he confessed to fraud and breach of trust, for which he will be sentenced to six months in prison, commuted to community service, and given a fine of $194,000.

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

The first case, 1000, revolves around gifts from wealthy supporters including Australian billionare James Packer.

The second case is concerned with suspicions that Netanyahu discussed a secret deal to help scale down the circulation of Israel Hayom, a free daily supportive of the Prime Minister, in exchange for more favourable coverage in rival publication Yediot Aharonot.

The scandal was based on an alleged recording of Netanyahu in secret talks with Noni Mozes, the owner of Yediot Aharonot. 

In his 11 years of office Netanyahu has weathered several scandals and police inquiries.

News of Harow's imminent testimony comes a day after Netanyahu's wife was questioned by police for the fourth time, over her use of official funds.

Sara Netanyahu has been under investigation for two years over claims she spent public money on expenses for the Netanyahus' home, including private chefs, catering and electrical work. 

Netanyahu has also been subject to accusations of improper household spending, including when a 2016 foreign ministry report detailed tens of thousands of dollars on expenses for make-up, takeaway meals and $386,922 on flights.