Germany has launched an official investigation into Israel's so-called submarine affair, in which several of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's associates are suspected of bribery and corruption.
The investigation reportedly comes at Israel's request, after a series of new details emerged last week and thrust the affair – often known as Case 3000 – back into the spotlight, raising questions as to Netanyahu's personal involvement.
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. The multi-billion-shekel deals, many of which date back to 2009, would have seen Israel purchase naval vessels and submarines from ThyssenKrupp. Netanyahu's associates, however, are suspected of "skimming" millions of shekels off the top of the deals for their personal profit.
The German probe is being led by the chief prosecutor of Bochum, a city north of Cologne in the west of the country. The chief prosecutor's office specialises in financial corruption cases, according to the Times of Israel, which cited German newspaper Handelsblatt as its source.
Though previously Germany had seen no reason to initiate its own probe into the submarine affair, prosecutors changed their assessment "after Israel applied for legal assistance," Russia's state-owned Sputnik news site reported. Sputnik also explained that a formal procedure has now been initiated by Bochum's prosecutors because ThyssenKrupp has its headquarters in the region.
Citing Handelsblatt, Sputnik reported that "some suspicious spending related to the armaments business has been discovered in connection with ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems (TKMS), the shipbuilding division of the Ruhr Group, from whom Israel has ordered submarines and corvettes over recent years."
There are reportedly "internal documents and reports that [ThyssenKrupp's] managers relied on respected ex-military members to handle the local operations with a flow of so-called 'useful expenses'."
Under one of the deals between ThyssenKrupp and Israel – in which the latter ordered three submarines worth $2 billion – "one-third of the construction costs […] were taken over by Germany as a part of historic reparations to Israel". Since 1952, when the two countries signed a reparations agreement which would see Germany pay Israel for the cost of resettling Jewish refugees displaced during World War II, Germany has paid billions of dollars to Israel.
The German authorities have thus far not commented on the revelation that Bochum's prosecution will open a probe into the submarine affair.
The submarine affair had, in recent months, gone quiet in Israeli media as the country focused on the upcoming general election slated for 9 April and the decision by Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit to indict Netanyahu in a number of other corruption cases.
However, last week focus returned to the affair following the emergence of several new details pertaining to the case. In a shock move last Tuesday, Miki Ganor – a former ThyssenKrupp sales representative in Israel who had agreed to act as state's witness in the case – presented himself to the Israeli police and asked to change his previous statement.
In the previous statement, Ganor had implicated a number of Israeli officials in the affair, including Netanyahu's cousins David Shimron and Nathan Milikowsky, his former bureau chief David Sharan and former head of the Israeli Navy, Eliezer Marom. Last week, however, Ganor claimed he had been pressured by the police into confessing and now wished to withdraw his testimony. The move led him to be arrested while the state considered revoking his protected witness status.
Last week reports also emerged that Netanyahu could have been involved in the affair. Though previously only the prime minister's close associates were being investigated, the Israeli State Comptroller's Office recently found that Netanyahu and Milikowsky were shareholders in Texas-based steel factory SeaDrift, which was later absorbed into GrafTech International, a long-time supplier of ThyssenKrupp. Netanyahu claims he sold his shares to his cousin after he was elected prime minister in 2009, but 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.