Benjamin and Sara Netanyahu.
(photo credit: NIR ELIAS / REUTERS)
There is increasing evidence to support bribery charges against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in corruption Case 1000, according to media reports.
On Thursday, the Lahav 433 National Crime Unit questioned Netanyahu for over four hours at his official residence in Jerusalem. During the questioning, Lahav 433 confronted Netanyahu with the testimony of Hollywood movie mogul Arnon Milchan, Channel 10 News reported on Friday night.
In Case 1000, the “gifts affair,” it is suspected that Netanyahu improperly accepted expensive gifts from different businessmen.
Milchan has confirmed that he regularly sent cigars and other gifts to the prime minister and his wife, Sara.
Police are investigating several situations where Netanyahu may allegedly have used his power for the benefit of Milchan.
The first is an initiative nine years ago to establish a free trade zone near the Jordanian border. It is suspected that Milchan asked Netanyahu to promote the project. The request was said to have been made following consultation with Indian billionaire Ratan Tata, whom Israeli police recently questioned. The initiative never came to fruition.
Police questioned Netanyahu about his part in the initiative, Channel 10 News reported.
Netanyahu reportedly answered: “It could have been very profitable for the country, and would have created many jobs for both Palestinians and Israelis. I did not know that Milchan was involved in this [project].”
However, Milchan allegedly told the police
that he worked with Netanyahu to advance this initiative.
Police also asked the prime minister why he had helped Milchan to secure an American visa and if doing so had anything to do with the gifts received.
Netanyahu is said to have answered: “There is no connection between the two.
My relationship with Milchan goes way back. He is a long-time friend of mine.
I tried helping him because of his contribution to the State of Israel, just like I helped many others.”
Both the police’s and the state prosecution’s suspicion of bribery is getting stronger, Channel 10 News reported.
Netanyahu has acknowledged accepting gifts from Milchan, but maintained they were presents exchanged between friends and did not constitute bribery or a breach of trust. The prime minister has denied any wrongdoing.
“It is allowed – according to the law – to receive gifts from friends... Arnon Milchan and I have been friends for over 20 years. We are good friends, our wives are good friends,” he said at the Knesset in January.
Netanyahu is expected to be questioned at least twice more by police.
Channel 2 News reported on Saturday that police sources said that Netanyahu was unable to refute the allegations presented during his questioning.
A senior police source had said that great progress had been made in the investigation and that if there were no major developments, they would begin the final phases of the investigation next month.
Police officials would not confirm the report.
“We are not conducting our investigations or any other procedure within the media, only in the interrogation rooms,” a police spokesman told The Jerusalem Post.