(photo credit:MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was questioned under caution for a fourth time by police investigators at his Jerusalem residence on Monday. He is being investigated in two cases involving allegations of accepting illegal gifts from Israeli billionaire Arnon Milchan and attempting to grant political favors in exchange for favorable media coverage from Yediot Aharonot publisher Arnon Mozes.
Investigators from the Lahav 433 National Fraud Unit led by Dep.-Ch. Koresh Barnur arrived at the Prime Minister’s Residence shortly before 5 p.m and concluded the investigation at approximately 9:30 p.m.
This comes as Israel Police Commissioner Insp.-Gen.Roni Alsheich said earlier Monday that police investigators are at the final stages of the probe. “We will end [the investigation] soon, we are in the final stages,” he told the press at a ceremony to appoint the new National Fire and Rescue Service commissioner.
Alsheich’s statements did not clarify whether he was referring to both criminal probes, however, and a police spokeswoman declined to comment.
Benjamin Netanyahu dismissive of corruption allegations on January 2, 2017
Meanwhile, Channel 2 reported on Sunday that the investigation of illegal gifts, termed Case 1,000, may take longer than previously thought. That probe has been postponed from late March to sometime in April, as the police had difficulties coordinating the questioning with Netanyahu’s extensive foreign travel schedule.
Once the investigation is concluded, the police will submit their findings – along with a recommendation to either indict or close the case – to Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit for a final decision.
Case 1,000 deals with allegations that Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, accepted illegal gifts of cigars, champagne and jewelry worth tens of thousands of shekels from Israeli movie mogul Arnon Milchan.
While he is not a suspect in the case, Netanyahu’s son, Yair, has given testimony on suspicions that Australian billionaire James Packer gave lavish gifts to him in a bid to influence his father. Hebrew media previously reported that police were leaning toward recommending indictment in the case.
The prime minister has reportedly not denied receiving the gifts, but claimed that they were presents given between friends and do not constitute a breach of trust.
Yaakov Weinroth, who represents Netanyahu, summed up his client’s argument in early January, telling the press: “Any reasonable person knows that someone bringing their friend cigars is not a criminal offense.”
The police have also had difficulties coordinating the foreign judicial inquiry of Packer for personal and medical reasons, and that of Milchan for reasons that remain unclear.
Both billionaires are suspected of giving illegal gifts to Netanyahu and members of his family.
Case 2,000 deals with allegations that the prime minister attempted to broker favorable media coverage with Yediot Aharonot
publisher Arnon Mozes in exchange for supporting a 2014 bill to weaken competing newspaper Israel Hayom
. According to Sunday’s report, police are still seeking a statement from US billionaire Sheldon Adelson, a Netanyahu confidant and owner of Israel Hayom
According to leaked transcripts of a 2014 conversation with Mozes, Netanyahu told the publisher to “lower the level of hostility...from 9.5 to 7.5,” to which Mozes responded, “I get it. Don’t worry about it – we need to ensure that you will be prime minister.”
In both cases, Netanyahu has denied any wrongdoing, repeating his often stated claim, “There will be nothing, because there is nothing.”
Meanwhile, Meretz leader Zehava Gal- On on Monday accused Mandelblit of “foot-dragging” in the investigation and accused the Netanyahu of “subjugating national interests in order to avoid indictment.”
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