An ex-aide to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has signed a state witness deal in a corruption probe linked to his former boss, Israeli media reported Monday, dealing a new setback to the premier.
News of the agreement broke ahead of Netanyahu’s meeting with US President Donald Trump at the White House later Monday.
The widely reported agreement between Israeli authorities and Nir Hefetz, a former spokesman for the Netanyahu family, comes as corruption investigations into the prime minister intensify.
Israeli police provided no details on the reported agreement. Hefetz would be the third Netanyahu associate to sign a state witness deal in recent months.
An aide to Netanyahu immediately denounced the reports and proclaimed the long-serving prime minister’s innocence.
“When there’s something there, it doesn’t take even one state witness,” the aide said.
“And now, even a thousand state witnesses will not help.”
On Sunday, an Israeli court released Hefetz and telecoms mogul Shaul Elovitch and put them under house arrest after 14 days in custody.
Hefetz is alleged to have acted as a messenger between Netanyahu, Elovitch’s telecoms group Bezeq and news website Walla!, media reports say.
Police suspect Bezeq was given regulatory breaks in return for Netanyahu receiving positive coverage on Walla!, a news website owned by the telecoms group.
Hefetz is also suspected of trying to bribe a retired judge to block a probe into the prime minister’s wife, Sara Netanyahu, over alleged misuse of public funds, according to the reports.
Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that Hefetz had agreed to hand over recordings of Netanyahu and his wife as part of the state witness deal.
Last month, Israeli police recommended Netanyahu’s indictment on two other cases of alleged bribery. The attorney general is now considering how to move forward in those cases.
In one case, Netanyahu and family members are suspected of receiving one million shekels ($285,000, 230,000 euros) in gifts, including luxury cigars, champagne and jewellery, from wealthy figures in exchange for financial or personal favours.
In the other case, investigators suspect the premier of trying to reach an agreement with the owner of Yediot Aharonot newspaper for more favourable coverage.
Israeli media reported that Hefetz could also provide testimony in those two investigations.
The building investigations into Netanyahu’s affairs have raised questions over whether the 68-year-old will eventually have to step down.
He has been prime minister for a total of around 12 years.
The probes have also led to speculation in the Israeli media that he may opt for early elections in the coming months in a bid to bolster his standing before a decision on indictments is made.
Inside Sex Tapes, Power the Kremlin and Trump: Nastya Rybka case
With bee-stung lips, Nastya Rybka addressed her approximately 130,000 followers in a short Instagram video. The 23-year-old Belarusian said she was ill, which was why she had not attended the press conference last Wednesday. She said she needed rest and would soon “tell everything.” Smiling, she thanked Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, who had campaigned for her release from custody in Moscow.
This seems unusual enough; after all, this is a woman from the escort business who was imprisoned in Thailand, accused of illegal prostitution. In Russia she could face a prison sentence of up to six years. But Lukashenko’s assistance is only one piece of the puzzle in this heady mix of sex, power and politics.
Rybka (“little fish” in English) is a nickname Russian men give their loved ones. The young woman who calls herself that is actually Anastasia Vashukevich, a colorful figure in a political thriller that has been going on for about a year.
The repercussions reach from Moscow to Bangkok to Washington. At its core, it’s about Oleg Deripaska, the Russian oligarch and aluminum king, and speculation as to whether he might have been one of the secret intermediaries between Russia and Donald Trump’s campaign team in the 2016 US presidential election. Vashukevich played a role that evidently became too much for her at some point.
Vashukevich owes her fame in Russia and beyond to her craving for admiration, Instagram, and opposition politician Alexei Navalny. With her help, Navalny came across one of his most explosive revelations. In February 2018, Navalny presented a 25-minute investigative film on his web channels. He explained that he originally wanted to find out who was behind a 2017 campaign in which young women dressed as sex slaves stormed his office in Moscow. Vashukevich took part in the group’s other similarly provocative campaigns, for example, when several nearly naked girls showed solidarity with US film producer Harvey Weinstein by demonstrating in front of the US Embassy in Moscow.
In a talk show on Russian television, Vashukevich described herself as a “professional man hunter,” and said that she had had relationships with six billionaires, describing one of them in a book to demonstrate the maxim: “This is how you catch a billionaire.” Navalny in some instances compared very intimate descriptions of a yacht trip from this book with real photos from Rybka’s Instagram profile, where she presented herself with the oligarch Deripaska. Navalny’s conclusion was that the anonymous oligarch from the book is Deripaska.
The most controversial discovery in Rybka’s Instagram profile was a video supposedly taken in Norway in August 2016. It shows Deripaska and a man closely resembling top Kremlin official Sergey Prichodko on a yacht. Prichodko operates in the background politically, his main focus being foreign policy. An excerpt from a conversation about Russian-American relations can be heard.
Navalny speculated that this was the missing secret link between the Kremlin and the Trump team, which both sides have so far denied. According to US media reports, Deripaska was a business partner of Paul Manafort, Donald Trump’s former campaign manager. Manafort allegedly owed Deripaska money and indirectly offered him “private briefings.” There is no evidence that the oligarch received and accepted this offer. Nor has there been any confirmation of Navalny’s suspicions, not even from US Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
Deripaska described this as a smear campaign and sued Vashukevich and a certain Alexander Kirillov for damages in a Russian court for circulating details of his private life. Kirillov is also a native Belarusian, who likes to present himself as a “sex coach” and operates as Rybka’s “patron.” His exact role in this case is unclear.
No new revelations?
Vashukevich later fueled speculation by claiming she had explosive information about the US elections. In February 2018, shortly after Navalny’s revelations, she was arrested in Thailand, together with Kirillov, for conducting “sex training for Russian tourists,” as it was described by the Russian media. Both begged US media and authorities for help, but Washington did not get involved. Russian media reported, quoting sources from Vashukevich’s circle of acquaintances, that FBI agents questioned her during her detention in Thailand, but she said she “told them nothing.”
After nine months in prison, Vashukevich and Kirillov were deported in mid-February and flown to Moscow. Vashukevich allegedly wanted to fly on to Minsk in her native Belarus but was arrested and spent several days in Russian custody. She is accused of enticing at least two women into prostitution. She denies everything and was released from custody on Tuesday, but the charges remain.
In a Moscow court, Vashukevich asked journalists to pass on her apology to Deripaska and Prichodko. “I’m sorry that everything came to this.” Some see the investigation against her as Deripaska’s revenge. Others speculate that she filmed the oligarch on his yacht with the consent of the Russian secret services. Vashukevich told the court that Deripaska should “settle down.” The exhausted-looking woman promised no new revelations: “I’ve had enough.”
Deutsche Bank Raided over Russian Money Laundering
A money laundering probe stemming from the “Panama Papers” has led police to Deutsche Bank, according to authorities. Prosecutors believe the bank helped clients “transfer money from criminal activities” to tax havens.
German Federal police on Thursday raided the Frankfurt offices of Deutsche Bank. The Frankfurt prosecutor’s office said the raids stemmed from an investigation into suspected money laundering at the German bank.
About 170 law enforcement agents took part in the operation. The investigation revolves around multiple Deutsche Bank employees, including two believed to still be working at the financial institution.
Deutsche Bank said it was “fully cooperating” with authorities. “The case is related to the Panama Papers,” a spokesperson said.
According to prosecutors, Deutsche Bank is suspected of helping some 900 customers setup offshore shell companies in tax havens to “transfer money from criminal activities.” They said some €311 million ($354 million) is believed to have been laundered, citing information gleaned from the so-called “Panama Papers.”
Markus Meinzer, financial secrecy director of the Tax Justice Network, has been quoted “surprised that German officials would finally take action” on information garnered from the “Panama Papers.”
“It has been two years that they’ve been analyzing these files,” Mainzer said. “We have seen in other situations that German prosecutors took very long to take action” against tax avoidance schemes and financial crimes.
The “Panama Papers” data leak comprised some 11.5 million documents and was leaked to German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung by an anonymous source in 2015. At least 28 German entities were identified in the leak, according to reports at the time, including Deutsche Bank.
Deutsche Bank has come under increased scrutiny for lax anti-money laundering mechanisms. In September, German financial regulator BaFin formally ordered the bank to do more to combat money laundering in its institutions.
BaFin also assigned an audit firm to assist the bank in fulfilling its regulatory requirements, saying Deutsche Bank needs to “take appropriate internal safeguards.”
In the past, Deutsche Bank has acknowledged that its anti-money laundering efforts have fallen short of financial rules. In August, it confirmed that even after it was fined for helping Russian clients wash some $10 billion (€8.8 billion), its mechanisms to stop such criminal activity were still ineff
Trump Threatens Acosta, Again
The White House has announced that despite a Judicial order restoring Acosta’s press pass, they will suspend it immediately after the order expires in 14 days.
According, to Brian Stelter of CNN, “Lawyers were already expected to be back in court this week to discuss the timeline for further proceedings. Unless there’s some sort of resolution, CNN will be arguing for a preliminary injunction. Here’s what CNN outside counsel Ted Boutrous told me on “Reliable Sources” before these new developments were known… “
The White House argues Acosta did not follow “basic standards” at a news conference when he scrapped with U.S. President Donald Trump.
In a court filing Monday, CNN said the administration was creating “retroactive due process.” The network tweeted that the White House “is continuing to violate the First and Fifth amendments of the Constitution.”
The @WhiteHouse is continuing to violate the First and Fifth amendments of the Constitution. These actions threaten all journalists and news organizations. @Acosta and CNN will continue to report the news about the White House and @realDonaldTrump https://t.co/knr1NpyMVv
— CNN Communications (@CNNPR) November 19, 2018