Police reportedly suspect that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and an Israeli businessman at one time conducted negotiations for an arrangement that would have see the businessman benefit in exchange for helping Netanyahu remain in power.
According to a report Sunday in the daily Haaretz, officers are in possession of “a series” of audio recordings of Netanyahu that appear to corroborate the suspicions, part of a mysterious investigation whose details have remained hazy.
The evidence, the report said, doesn’t necessarily point at financial favors, but rather indicates an attempt to forge a “quid pro quo pact,” under which the unnamed businessman would help Netanyahu shore up his leadership, and receive “achievements estimated to be worth a fortune” in return.
Although the report implied the “pact” may never have come to fruition, it said the details could “shed light on how decisions are made at the top” of Israeli government.
A spokesman for the Prime Minister’s Office declined a Times of Israel request to comment on the report.
Netanyahu was questioned by police under caution on Thursday evening for five hours — the second such session in four days. Reports have mostly dealt with a separate investigation involving possibly illicit gifts that Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, received from several businessmen.
The probe involving the reported recordings of the prime minister, rumored to have been dubbed Case 2,000, will be publicly damaging but is legally ambiguous, sources involved in the investigation told the country’s major broadcasters Friday.
One source told Channel 2 news that it would cause “a public storm” and “public anger” but would not necessarily lead to an indictment. It involved an Israeli businessman, the source said, who had sought to provide benefits to the Israeli leader in return for certain perks.
Channel 10 reported a similar assessment from investigative officials, with the broadcaster’s reporters being told the case was “juicy” and publicly harmful, but complex and not straightforward as far as the law was concerned. It said the businessman was a “central” Israeli figure who wanted Netanyahu to “take a certain decision,” and would reward him in turn, and that it was not clear whether Netanyahu had ultimately taken the decision.
Sunday’s Haaretz report quoted sources close to the prime minister as saying he was surprised by the quality of the evidence police had amassed in the case.
Netanyahu’s lawyer Yaakov Weinroth on Friday rejected the notion that there was anything criminal in the prime minister’s actions, and said he had nothing to fear from Case 2,000.
Weinroth said that he had heard Netanyahu’s responses to investigators’ questions, and “I was and I remain calm… We’re not talking about money, we’re not talking about loans, we’re not talking about anything that constitutes a crime.” It would become clear to all, he added, that there is “no suspicion, no trace, of a criminal offense in all of this.”
Police said they could not provide further details on the case due to concerns about possible obstructions of justice. Haaretz reported that officers had warned Netanyahu on Thursday not to discuss the case with other suspects so as to avoid obstructing the investigation.
At the core of the more widely reported investigation is the question of whether there have been illegal conflicts of interest on Netanyahu’s part in accepting gifts from businessmen and taking actions on their behalf.
Details of that investigation have been more forthcoming than those of Case 2,000, and reportedly include suspicions that the Netanyahus received cigars and champagne worth hundreds of thousands of shekels over many years from the Israeli film producer Arnon Milchan.
Channel 2 news reported on Saturday night that Netanyahu had asked Secretary of State John Kerry three times in 2014 to pull strings for a long-term visa for Milchan to live in the United States. The visa for the Hollywood-based producer was indeed arranged.
The report said that Milchan’s gifts to Netanyahu began when he was opposition leader, and were not limited to cigars. There were suits, and meals cooked by private chefs, it said, and jewelry for Sara Netanyahu.
Weinroth, who consulted with his client at the end of Thursday’s questioning, said “there is nothing to the allegations” as regards to Milchan’s gifts. “Any reasonable person knows that there is nothing remotely criminal involved when a close friend gives his friend a gift of cigars,” he said.