Netanyahu downplays ex-aide’s decision to testify in graft cases

Jerusalem: Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu played down his former aide’s decision to become a state witness against him in two graft cases.

On Friday, Ari Harow, Netanyahu’s former chief of staff, agreed to provide testimonies against the Israeli Prime Minister in two separate long-running criminal investigations, Xinhua news agency reported.

In a post on his official Facebook page, the Israeli PM dismissed the move as “background noises.”

He addressed the “citizens of Israel” and said he is “continuing working for the benefit of the country.”

According to reports in local media, Harow, 44, has already provided the police with information about the cases.

The US-born Israeli was one of Netanyahu’s most trusted aides. He served as Netanyahu’s bureau chief in the prime minister’s office in 2008 and was appointed as his chief of staff in 2014. Harow left this position in 2015 amid allegations of conflict of interests.

A document the police filed with the court on Thursday shows the investigations involve “suspicion of the commission of felonies of bribery, fraud and breach of trust.”

Netanyahu, 67, is a suspect in two cases. One, dubbed by the police as “Case 2000,” involves secret talks he held with the owner of a large Israeli newspaper called Yediot Aharonot about reducing the competition in the news sector in return for more positive coverage.

The other case, known as “Case 1000,” involves suspicions that Netanyahu and his wife Sara received expensive gifts from Israeli-US businessman and Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan.

Netanyahu had been investigated by the police at least four times. In March, Police Chief Roni Alsheikh estimated the police are close to completing the investigation, saying “we are in the final stages.”

The procrastination of the law enforcement authorities sparked anger in the Israeli public, leading to weekly demonstrations near the home of Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit to demand charges against Netanyahu.

Netanyahu is serving his fourth term as Prime Minister.