Police trying to make ex-PMO official into state witness against Netanyahu
During investigation, sexual harassment allegations arise against PM's former bureau chief Gil Sheffer, but associates of the suspect claim that 'sexual harassment is not the thing that interests the investigators most,' rather his knowledge of the workings of the Prime Minister's Office.
Gil Sheffer, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's former bureau chief, was questioned under caution by police on Tuesday on suspicion of committing sex offenses and violence, but police is more interested in turning him into a state witness against the prime minister.
Sheffer was also questioned under caution two weeks ago by the police's Anti Fraud Unit as part of ongoing investigations and inquiries into Netanyahu and his family.
Sheffer was one of the closest people to Prime Minister Netanyahu and his wife Sara. He was considered a leader figure in the PMO and while working there he was in charge, among other things, of "putting out fires."
During his questioning, police investigators accused Sheffer of being the central figure behind the approval of expenses and jobs at the Prime Minister's Residence in a way that allegedly benefitted the Netanyahu family.
According to a police official, Sheffer was "marked" by the Anti Fraud Unit as a possible state witness who could help police with the various cases under investigation or inquiry concerning Netanyahu, as "he knows quite a few things."
Police tried in the past to recruit Netanyahu's former chief of staff Ari Harow as a state witness, and offered other senior employees at the Prime Minister's Residence, like deputy director-general Ezra Saidoff, to testify against the prime minister—but both refused.
As part of the investigation into Sheffer, police received information a few days ago about the sexual harassment complaint.
According to Channel 2, a woman who is an artist by profession was asked to appear at an event Sheffer also participated in. After the event, he offered the woman a ride back to the city they both lived in, and she accepted.
The woman claims that during the drive, Sheffer, who was sitting next to her in the back seat, touched her inappropriately and then took her to an apartment. According to her, there were other men at the apartment, and Sheffer allegedly forced her to perform for the men, as well as tried to kiss her against her will.
He is suspected of indecent acts and false imprisonment. He denied the charges against him and was put on a five-day house arrest following his questioning.
Sheffer's lawyer, Gil Friedman, said that "This is a baseless and contemptible complaint, and at the end of the investigation it will turn out that my client had done nothing wrong."
Police decided to have the Anti Fraud Unit handle both investigations, but it's clear to both sides the sexual harassment charges were not the main part of the investigation.
Sheffer's close associates said this was another move by the police to turn the former official into a state witness against the Netanyahu family.
"Let's just say the sexual harassment is not the thing that interests the investigators most," one associate said.
Meanwhile, the prime minister's wife, Sara Netanyahu, is expected to be called for further questioning on the case on Thursday.
Netanyahu's former right-hand man
Sheffer first encountered the Netanyahu couple when he was working at the head of ceremony at the Jerusalem Municipality between the years 1998-2008.
When Netanyahu was elected prime minister in 2009, Sheffer was appointed his advisor on events, tours and ceremonies. In December 2010, he was appointed office manager.
In 2012, he was appointed the acting bureau chief, replacing Natan Eshel who has agreed to resign following a sexual harassment scandal.
Sheffer resigned himself in 2013 in the wake of a complaint a year earlier from a woman, claiming he sexually assaulted her 15 years prior.
"Gil Sheffer attacked me violently and brutally. He slammed my head repeatedly, closed the car's door when I attempted to flee and ignored my pleas for him to stop," the woman wrote to Netanyahu. "What happened with Gil was in no way a normal incident in which a man tries to approach a woman."
The complainant also wrote that she experienced moments of terror and fear when she was trapped in Sheffer's car, "after which I experienced crying fits, fear and repeated nightmares. It took me a year to get over the horrible ordeal."
Asking Netanyahu not to officially make Sheffer the bureau chief, the woman wrote: "I think that as a prime minister elected also by women, it's your duty not to aid and abet men who treat women in this brutal and cruel way."
Netanyahu asked the attorney general to investigate the case. Sheffer underwent three polygraph tests and found to be speaking the truth in all of them.
The complainant also underwent a judicial inquiry in Los Angeles and was found to be speaking the truth in a polygraph test as well.
Sheffer claimed from the start that the complaint was a false claim and eventually the case was closed due to the statute of limitations. Nevertheless, he left the PMO in March 2014. He was replaced by Ari Harow, who also left shortly thereafter amid suspicions of money laundering.
Sheffer denied any connection between his departure from the PMO and the complaint against him and claimed that he had planned to leave long before it surfaced.
Sheffer's ties with the Netanyahu couple, however, weakened, and he went into business abroad. In June 2015 he was made Japan's honorary consul in Israel, and travels to Tokyo on business a lot.