The criminal investigations into allegations of corruption by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s deepened on Wednesday, as his wife Sara, a Likud minister and the publishing mogul at the center of one of the probes were reportedly summoned by police to testify over two separate cases.
Sara Netanyahu was summoned to give testimony to police on allegations the Netanyahus received hundreds of thousands of shekels worth of cigars, champagne and other gifts from billionaire benefactors, Channel 10 reported.
Meanwhile, Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Arnon Mozes was also reportedly set to be questioned by police for a second time in the other affair, which explores recordings of conversations between him and the prime minister, in which Netanyahu reportedly pledged to advance legislation to hobble the free Israel Hayom newspaper if Mozes’s Yedioth Ahronoth daily gave him more positive coverage.
Netanyahu reportedly told investigators he was playing along with Mozes to gauge the newspaper publisher’s plans, but was not serious about a quid pro quo deal with Mozes, his arch-rival.
Both Mozes’s second interrogation and the questioning of the premier’s wife could come as early as Thursday, reports said. This time around, the media mogul would be faced with Netanyahu’s version of the events, according to the television report.
The TV channel quoted an unnamed Likud minister saying the new details in both investigations could spell the end for Netanyahu’s eight-year stretch in office.
“The new details are a game changer. You can smell it in the air that the era of Netanyahu is coming to an end. We need to prepare for the day after,” the unnamed minister was quoted as saying.
The report also said that Environmental Protection Minister Ze’ev Elkin (Likud) was summoned to police to give testimony. However, Elkin’s spokesperson told The Times of Israel he has not been invited.
Earlier on Wednesday, Tourism Minister Yariv Levin gave testimony to police.
PM reportedly threatened mogul
According to a Wednesday Haaretz report, Netanyahu threatened Mozes during their talks.
During the conversations, tapes of which the police reportedly have hours of, Netanyahu told Mozes “if he smears him, he will take care of him,” in the language of the paper.
The paper also reported that Mozes complained to Netanyahu that he wouldn’t let him destroy his family business built by his grandfather.
However, Mozes told Netanyahu he would be willing to fire Igal Sarna, who sits on the Yedioth editorial board and is seen as a prominent enemy of Netanyahu, but doing so would be complicated, according to the report.
Leaks to Israeli media on Tuesday included a quote attributed to Mozes in which the Yedioth publisher vowed he would keep Netanyahu in power if the two cut a deal.
“If we can come to an agreement on the law (to limit Israel Hayom), I will do all I can to make sure you stay here (as prime minister) as long as you want,” Channel 2 quoted Mozes as saying in recordings of conversations between the two. “I’m looking you in the eye, and saying this as clearly as I can.”
Gifts and an alleged quid pro quo
The prime minister has been questioned by police twice in the past two weeks over the two separate corruption cases, one of which involves allegations that a number of businessmen have given Netanyahu and his wife lucrative gifts during his years in office.
Police have seized receipts for gifts worth up to NIS 400,000 ($104,000) given to Netanyahu by Israeli Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan, during a raid on his Ramat Gan offices, Channel 10 news reported earlier this week.
Last week, Channel 2 news reported that Milchan was one of up to four businessmen eyed as suspected benefactors of the Netanyahus. Milchan is alleged to have provided the prime minister with a steady supply of expensive cigars and his wife with champagne for nearly a decade.
The TV station has also reported that Netanyahu had asked US Secretary of State John Kerry three times in 2014 to intervene on behalf of Milchan and arrange a long-term visa for Milchan to live in the United States. The visa was arranged.
Netanyahu told police he and his wife had also given gifts to Milchen, including a necklace for his wife, as the two couples are close friends, Channel 2 reported.
On Sunday, Channel 10 said that in addition to Milchan, Australian billionaire James Packer was also paying for meals for the Netanyahus at their private residence in Caesarea, as well as cigars and champagne. Packer and Milchan are friends and have mutual business interests.
Netanyahu is also under investigation for the alleged quid pro quo deal with Mozes in 2014.
The prime minister has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, and his lawyer has insisted Netanyahu has done nothing illegal.
His spokesperson declined a request Tuesday from the Times of Israel to comment on the latest reports over the receipts or on whether the prime minister had initiated the meetings with Mozes.