Opposition MKs and former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon slammed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday over the police investigation into allegations that he received illegal gifts from businessmen, including expensive cigars from Israeli movie mogul Arnon Milchan.
Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit will reportedly close the investigation and reach a decision on whether to prosecute Netanyahu within a few weeks.
This comes as Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon (Kulanu) reportedly reached out to President Reuven Rivlin, seeking to form a new government, in the event of Netanyahu resigning.
According to the Channel 2 report Saturday night, Kulanu and the Zionist Union would form a temporary government until an election is held.
Kahlon responded on Twitter Saturday night denying any involvement with planning a new government.
Ya’alon hinted in an interview to Channel 2 that Netanyahu’s corruption is one of the biggest threats to Israel.
“I already said in an interview, just after I left the IDF, that the biggest threat to Israel, bigger than the looming Iranian nuclear bomb, is the corruption.
“There is a problem of lack of leadership in Israel. I meet many people that lost their trust in our leadership,” Ya’alon added. “It is about time that Israel has a prime minister that doesn’t need to be investigated.”
Zionist Union MK Tzipi Livni attacked Netanyahu at a cultural event in Modi’in on Saturday saying he “has lost the moral authority to be prime minister” and “must decide if he wants to be an oligarch or a prime minister.
“His family lives its life in an oligarch perspective; they think that everyone owes them something, that they’re friends are vendors catering to their needs,” Livni said.
“The attorney-general has to determine [the case] as early as possible,” she continued, adding that constant investigations into Netanyahu are not good for Israel.
Netanyahu was questioned under caution by police for a total of eight hours in two sessions last week over allegations that he received illegal gifts from businessmen, as well as a second case whose nature police are keeping under wraps.
According to a report on Channel 2 on Saturday, Mandelblit will conclude the investigation into the corruption allegations within the next few weeks. However, sources quoted by Channel 2 said Mandelblit is unsure of how to proceed, as indicting Netanyahu may cause the collapse of the government for charges Netanyahu is likely to be acquitted of. On the other hand, Mandelblit reportedly does not want to create a precedent allowing prime ministers to accept expensive gifts.
“The moment that Netanyahu will have to step down is near,” Zionist Union MK Shelly Yacimovich said at an event in Tel Aviv on Saturday.
“The attempt by Netanyahu to make light of receiving gifts such as cigars and alcohol will not succeed.
“This is the equivalent of giving money, lots of money,” she said, adding that Milchan was Netanyahu’s “sugar daddy.”
In the first case, termed “Case 1000” by police, Netanyahu allegedly accepted gifts in a manner that breached his duty of trust as a public servant, including cigars reportedly worth tens of thousands of shekels from Milchan over seven or eight years.
The second, termed “Case 2000,” the details of which remain vague, would, according to rumors, cause a public outrage if they became known. However, it is unclear if there are any merits for prosecuting the case, according to a report on Channel 2 on Friday.
Attorney Yaakov Weinroth, who represents Netanyahu, told the press on Friday that there is “no shred of criminal act” regarding Case 1000.
“Any reasonable person knows that someone bringing their friend cigars is not a criminal offense,” he said.
Speaking of the second confidential case against Netanyahu, Weinroth was reticent, but stated that it did not have to do with money, a loan or crime, adding, “I was and I remain calm.”
The prime minister is known to be a cigar aficionado. Channel 2 reported that he smokes up to NIS 20,000 worth of cigars each month.
Regarding allegations that Milchan wanted positive treatment from the prime minister for Channel 10, where he has a 10% stake, defenders of the prime minister highlight Netanyahu’s acrimonious relationship with the TV news channel.
Sara Netanyahu also reportedly received expensive bottles of pink champagne from Milchan.
Meretz chairwoman Zehava Gal- On on Saturday joined in the criticism of Netanyahu and his relationship with Milchan. “Receiving a monthly pension amounting to hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years from Arnon Milchan is not a gift from friends – this is a disturbing package deal,” Gal-On said.
This comes as Netanyahu was questioned under caution for a second time on Thursday regarding all suspicions against him. Police announced on Thursday that another unnamed individual was questioned last week regarding the investigation.
In a statement scant on details, the National Fraud Unit, part of the Lahav 433 anti-corruption unit, said that they could not provide additional information due to concerns of “disrupting the investigation.”
Netanyahu was also questioned on Monday night for around three hours in connection with Case 1000. Both times the prime minister was questioned by members of the National Fraud Unit at his residence on Balfour Street in Jerusalem.
Experts believe investigators will question the prime minister at least once more.
Dep.-Ch. Koresh Barnur, the head of the National Fraud Unit, has led the investigation.
After the first interrogation session, the prime minister sought to deflate the accusations against him.
“The long years of daily persecution against me and my family turned out yesterday to be nothing,” the prime minister said in a tweet on Tuesday and repeated his mantra: “There will be nothing, because there is nothing.”
He has not commented on the case since Tuesday.
Mandelblit issued the first official statement regarding the criminal investigation last Monday night, confirming that the probe into Netanyahu’s dealings had become a full-fledged criminal investigation and that the prime minister had been accused of ethics breaches.
The investigation began from a preliminary review in July of multiple affairs. After Monday’s questioning, four of these affairs were closed.
The four closed cases were that Netanyahu ran an unreported, illegally financed shadow campaign in the 2009 general election; that he rigged the Likud primary results in 2009; that he received gifts and benefits from wealthy people while overseas; and that he double-dipped in payments for flights overseas – allegations known as “Bibi Tours.”
The Bibi Tours allegations have particularly haunted Netanyahu since they broke in 2011, when Channel 10 reported that a series of flights Netanyahu took in the late 1990s and early 2000s with his wife, Sara, were allegedly illegally paid for by wealthy associates.
Netanyahu referred to these allegations in a tweet on Tuesday: “Bibi Tours – nothing! Claims of falsifying primary results – nothing! Claims of illegally funding elections – nothing! Claims of receiving benefits abroad and payment for flights – nothing!”
Yonah Jeremy Bob and Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.