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Lawyer to be charged with graft in new woes for Netanyahu

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Jerusalem (AFP)

Israel's state prosecutor said Thursday he intends to charge the personal lawyer of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with money-laundering in the state's purchase of submarines from German firm Thyssenkrupp.

Netanyahu has in the past been questioned as a witness in the case but was not considered a suspect.

Nevertheless, with prospects of another snap election looming and the premier already charged with bribery, fraud and breach of trust, it is sure to provide ammunition for his political rivals.

Main challenger Benny Gantz, a former Israeli army chief, has repeatedly accused the country's longest-serving prime minister of profiting personally from the submarine purchase.

Netanyahu denies the accusation.

Israel's justice ministry said Thursday that subject to pre-indictment hearings for all the suspects, it intended to charge Netanyahu's personal lawyer and cousin, David Shimron, with money-laundering.

Charges of bribery are pending against another Israeli businessman and the former head of the Israeli navy, a ministry statement said.

Attorney general Avichai Mandelblit last month announced charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust against Netanyahu in three different corruption cases, numbered 1,000, 2,000 and 4,000.

On Thursday he announced his intention to indict on case 3,000, which involved Germany's 2017 sale of military submarines and other Thyssenkrupp-designed vessels for a total sum of around two billion dollars.

The ministry statement announced indictments against the industrial giant's local agent Michael Ganor and former navy chief Eliezer Marom, among others.

The Israeli police announced in November 2018 it had enough evidence to charge a number of suspects, including Shimron.

- Election countdown, again -

Thursday's announcement comes as lawmakers face a looming December 11 deadline to find a solution or see parliament dissolved once again.

An April election ended with neither side in control of enough parliamentary seats to form a viable coalition government.

The same happened in a second poll in September.

During bitter campaigning for the April vote, Gantz made "zero tolerance for corruption" a central plank of his platform.

He also accused Netanyahu and those close to him of running the country and its institutions as their personal fiefdom.

Gantz's centrist Blue and White alliance has said that Netanyahu may have committed treason by agreeing to allow Germany to sell Egypt submarines without the knowledge of the defence ministry.

Germany consults Israel before such sales due to the relationship between the two countries, Israeli media have reported.

Blue and White say Netanyahu may have pushed for the submarine deal -- which they say was surplus to requirements -- to boost the stock of a company in which he had owned shares.

In March, Netanyahu made an unscheduled TV appearance to refute the allegations, striding in front of cameras on privately-owned Channel 12 during the main evening newscast.

"I have to smash the wave of lies spread by Gantz," and other Blue and White leaders, he said.

Netanyahu said that on the advice of his cousin, he had in 2007 bought $600,000 of stock in a company that manufactured components used in the metal industry, he said.

He said he sold it in 2010 -- when already premier -- and that the relevant authorities were made aware of the holdings and sale.

He reportedly sold at a profit of more than $3 million.

Netanyahu added that the submarine sale to Israel took place over a year later.

"It's a company that has nothing to do with submarines," he said.

Two days after that interview, German prosecutors said they were investigating the 2017 sale.

That came shortly after Ganor was arrested in Israel, after changing his testimony during the investigation into corruption suspicions around the purchase of the German submarines.

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