Testimony by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a police investigation into suspected corruption is at odds with evidence and other material gathered during the probe, unnamed sources said Saturday.
The investigation, dubbed Case 1000, involves expensive gifts Netanyahu and his wife Sara allegedly demanded from Israeli movie mogul Arnon Milchan. The gifts included luxury items such as champagne and expensive Cuban cigars.
Police are checking whether the Netanyahus received some NIS 400,000-600,000 ($100,000-150,000) in gifts of cigars and fine wines from Milchan. The couple have reportedly insisted that the sums involved were far lower, and that the gifts were unremarkable seeing that the Milchans are their close friends. Other businessmen are also alleged to have provided the Netanyahus with gifts.
According to unnamed sources quoted 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, told police they bought the items after the Netanyahus prompted them to purchase them.
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.
An unnamed associate of the prime minister told Channel 2 that the investigation will not lead to charges, a message repeatedly stressed by Netanyahu throughout the affair.
“‘Anonymous sources’ in the police have been saying for more than a month that it is recommended that an indictment be served against the prime minister on the issue of gifts,” the associate said. “This is not new. It has also happened in the past… They start with bombastic headlines and police recommending an indictment, and finish up with nothing. This is what will happen this time around as well.”
But on Friday Israeli media reported that police are expected to conclude their investigation within less than two months and that will indeed recommend an indictment against the prime minister.
A severe indictment would include bribery charges and breach of trust. But police may also seek a more lenient indictment on breach of trust alone.
It is not clear why Milchan allegedly acquiesced to the Netanyahus’ demands and whether he has received anything in return.
A person close to Milchan told Haaretz newspaper last month that the movie mogul simply wanted to feel close to the seat of power and that he was not looking to receive anything for his presents.
Netanyahu and his wife have repeatedly told the police that Milchan is their “dear friend” and that giving and receiving gifts is customary among friends.
The prime minister is also being investigated in a second case, known as Case 2000, which involves alleged negotiations with the publisher of the Yedioth Aharonoth daily, Arnon Mozes, and focuses on the prime minister’s supposed promise to advance legislation to hobble the Sheldon Adelson-controlled Israel Hayom paper in exchange for more favorable coverage from Yedioth.