Police investigators questioned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday evening for the fourth time in two corruption cases, an interview that lasted for over four hours and during which the Israeli leader excused himself to take a pre-scheduled call from US President Donald Trump.
Investigators from the police anti-corruption unit, Lahav 433, arrived at the Prime Minister’s residence in Jerusalem to question the prime minister on suspicions he and his family accepted expensive gifts from wealthy businessmen in exchange for favors, known as Case 1000, and on a separate investigation, dubbed Case 2000, which involves Netanyahu’s alleged negotiations with the publisher of the Yedioth Aharonoth daily, Arnon Mozes, to advance legislation to hobble the paper’s rival — the Sheldon Adelson-controlled Israel Hayom — in exchange for more favorable coverage from Yedioth.
Netanyahu paused the session for approximately 30 minutes to accept a call from Trump to discuss Iran’s recent belligerent acts in the region and the controversial nuclear agreement signed between Tehran and six world powers in 2015.
A Likud MK on Saturday joined some opposition critics who have questioned Netanyahu’s capacity to run the country effectively while under investigation. “Whoever tells you the prime minister can act without disruption and distraction while being investigated, is not telling the truth,” said Avi Dichter, a former Shin Bet chief. “This matter is very problematic for someone running the country.” Dichter said he would challenge for the party leadership, taking on Netanyahu if necessary, at the next Likud elections, but walked back that pledge a few hours later.
The two leaders talked “at length” about the “dangers emanating from Iran and Iranian aggression in the region and the need to work together to deal with these threats,” according to a readout from the Prime Minister’s Office.
During the phone call, Netanyahu thanked Trump for the warm welcome he received last month in the White House.
The prime minister also expressed his gratitude to the US president for his “forceful statement against anti-Semitism,” during his speech last week to a joint meeting of the US Congress.
Earlier Monday, ahead of the fourth Netanyahu interview, Police Chief Roni Alsheich said that both ongoing corruption investigations were nearing completion.
“We will be finished soon,” Alsheich told reporters at a swearing-in ceremony for Israel’s new fire chief. “There have been some constraints, but we are in the final stages.”
“After we complete our obligations, we will update the public when we make our official recommendations,” he said.
Alsheich did not elaborate on what the “constraints” the investigations have faced, but police in recent weeks have reportedly said their work had been repeatedly delayed by Netanyahu’s busy schedule and time spent abroad, as well as their difficulty reaching persons of interest in the case.
Netanyahu has denied wrongdoing in both cases.
Last week, Lahav officers complained their inquiry has been repeatedly held up by Netanyahu’s frequent travels abroad. In recent weeks the prime minister has visited the United Kingdom, United States, Singapore and Australia, and on Thursday, he will be traveling to Russia.
Channel 2 said previously that police investigators are also having a difficult time setting up interviews with two key figures in the investigations, namely Israeli Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan, who allegedly provided Netanyahu and his wife Sara with expensive cigars and champagne valued at hundreds of thousands of shekels, and Australian businessman James Packer, who is said to have paid for expensive meals and accommodation for the Netanyahus’ son Yair.
According to unnamed sources quoted recently by Channel 2, Netanyahu told police that he did not know anything about bottles of champagne supposedly given to his wife, and said that he bought most of the cigars in cash from a “relative.”
But Milchan and his personal assistant, as well as other associates of the Hollywood producer, have told police investigators the items were bought at the request of the Netanyahus, according to reports.
The detectives, Channel 2 reported, have receipts and concrete evidence showing that the bubbly, cigars and some pieces of jewelry were allegedly transferred to the Netanyahu family in what is described as a “systematic” manner.
Last month police said the Case 1000 investigation would likely lead to a recommendation to indict Netanyahu. Officials said they were looking at two options: accusing the premier of breach of trust only, or adding the more serious charge of accepting a bribe.
Netanyahu swung back at police and in a statement released by his office, he chastised the police for indicating that a recommendation to indict was likely before the investigation is completed, but then asking for more interviews.
“What is there more to investigate if they indicated that they will recommend an indictment? This is what happens when pre-conceived notions clash with the facts. Like I’ve said before: ‘There will be nothing because there is nothing,’” Netanyahu said in the statement.