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Netanyahu's Former Chief Of Staff Agrees To Cooperate With Police Corruption Probe


For months, Israeli media have been buzzing with reports of a police investigation of possible corruption involving Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Last week, there was a significant development. A close Netanyahu confidant, his former chief of staff, agreed to cooperate with authorities as a witness for the state. His cooperation may have developed almost by chance. Police were investigating him for something else and reportedly found some recordings. NPR's Daniel Estrin has more on who he is and what all this could mean for Netanyahu's political future.

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: Ari Harow left the U.S. as a child, grew up in a West Bank settlement, and ended up becoming chief of staff to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Yoaz Hendel, Netanyahu's former communications director, says Harow was one of three people in Netanyahu's inner circle.

YOAZ HENDEL: Those three actually were in this gray zone which is the connection between the home and the office, the political and the personal, the national and the family.

ESTRIN: Israeli media report that police suspect over a number of years, Netanyahu accepted thousands of dollars in gifts like champagne and cigars from wealthy supporters and offered favors in return. Netanyahu has denied all wrongdoing.

HENDEL: There are things that Netanyahu for sure involved in. The big question - if it's illegal or just unproper (ph) behavior. Now, if the police taking someone as Ari Harow to become a witness - so I can only imagine that there is something.

ESTRIN: Israeli media are widely reporting that police were investigating Harow for an alleged conflict of interest when they came across recordings he had of Netanyahu offering a newspaper publisher help with his business in exchange for positive press coverage. Amit Segal, political commentator for Israeli Channel 2, says the recordings were probably made with Netanyahu's knowledge.

AMIT SEGAL: What he didn't know is that the police will investigate Harow and almost in a coincidence will find those recordings that actually threatened Netanyahu's future as a - as Israel's strongest politician.

ESTRIN: Authorities have agreed to punish Harow with a light sentence in his own legal case. In an exchange, he's telling what he knows, Segal says.

SEGAL: It does not ensure that Netanyahu will be prosecuted. But it actually increases the chances that he will.

ESTRIN: Over the weekend in the Israeli town of Petah Tikva, news of Harow's deal electrified Israelis at a rally calling for a full investigation. Here's one Israeli, Amram (ph) Zehavi.

AMRAM ZEHAVI: This man knows everything. It was a big day. I felt like a holy day because that's the end of Bibi Netanyahu. That's for sure.

ESTRIN: On the other side of the street there was a counterdemonstration.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: CNN fake news. (Unintelligible) Fake news.

ESTRIN: Netanyahu's supporters said it's fake news, a left-wing media witch hunt to topple Netanyahu's right-wing government. Here's one supporter, Yaki Farber.

YAKI FARBER: OK, you don't kick off a prime minister for some stupid silly things like getting free presents. At the end of the day, we voted Netanyahu. We want him. If we think that he's not good - so it's going to be election in a year and a half - we're going to - we're going to replace him.

ESTRIN: The police investigation and any indictment could take several months, maybe a couple of years. Netanyahu said on his Facebook page that he's not going anywhere. Daniel Estrin, NPR News, Jerusalem.

(SOUNDBITE OF GEORGE FIELDS' "EPHEMERAL") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Daniel Estrin is NPR's international correspondent in Jerusalem.