The Attorney General’s Office is opening an investigation into whether three drivers who worked for decades for the Prime Minister’s Office were improperly fired after Benjamin Netanyahu returned to office.
Media reports initially claimed that the drivers — who had been employed by the Prime Minister’s Office for around 30 years — were fired because they had also worked for former prime ministers Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid
But reports earlier this week by Channel 13 news and Haaretz revealed that the three drivers are witnesses in the prime minister’s ongoing corruption trial and are expected to testify next month in the Jerusalem District Court. The drivers are slated to provide testimony in Case 1000, which revolves around accusations that Netanyahu received expensive gifts, including cigars, from wealthy businessmen in exchange for benefits he provided to them.
Channel 13 news reported Monday that Deputy Attorney General Gil Limon agreed to a request from prosecutors to open an investigation into the drivers’ dismissal. The Times of Israel confirmed the investigation was being opened.
Netanyahu is on trial in three corruption cases. He faces charges of fraud and breach of trust in Case 1000 and in Case 2000, and charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust in Case 4000. He denies wrongdoing and claims the charges were fabricated in an attempted political coup led by the police, the state prosecution, the media and leftist rivals.
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According to Channel 13, the three drivers who were fired had contradicted Netanyahu’s testimony to police about the origin of certain cigars. During his investigation as part of Case 1000, Netanyahu told police that cigars that were believed to have been purchased for him by Hollywood movie mogul Arnon Milchan were actually purchased by himself through his drivers, the TV network reported.
Arnon Milchan (left) and Benjamin Netanyahu at a press conference in the Knesset, on March 28, 2005. (Flash90/ File)
Due to Netanyahu’s refusal to disclose the names of the drivers he was referring to, the report said police had summoned several drivers who had worked with him over the years.
The three who were fired contradicted Netanyahu’s version, denying during their investigation that they had ever purchased big quantities of cigars for the premier, the report said, which is why they were called on by the prosecution to testify in Netanyahu’s ongoing trial in three weeks time.
According to Haaretz, they are part of a group of seven drivers who worked with Netanyahu and have become witnesses for the prosecution in Netanyahu’s trial.
Responding to the report, Netanyahu’s office denied that firing the drivers had anything to do with the prime minister’s trial.
“The fact that the drivers who were moved from their position serve as witnesses for the prosecution did not play a part in their removal. Other drivers who also serve as witnesses for the prosecution have remained in their current roles. The position of the prime minister’s driver requires trust. It only makes sense that those who sit in the same vehicle with him be loyal to him,” read a statement issued by the Prime Minister’s Office.
The statement added that the three drivers would be moved to work under President Isaac Herzog’s motorcade instead.