Israel Police are reportedly seeking to question Australian billionaire James Packer as part of a corruption investigation into allegations Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accepted expensive gifts from wealthy businessmen, including Packer.
A Channel 10 report on Friday indicated that police have submitted a request with Australian authorities to question Packer under caution, adding that he may be considered a suspect in the investigation.
Packer has emerged as a key figure in the ongoing corruption, along with Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan.
In what they have dubbed “Case 1000,” police are probing whether Netanyahu’s accepting of expensive gifts from Milchan and Packer, and then taking actions on their behalf, amounts to an illegal conflict of interest.The gifts reportedly amounted to hundreds of thousands of dollars and included expensive cigars, champagne, meals and hotel rooms.
According to the Channel 10 report, police suspect the prime minister’s dealings with Packer were “more direct” than with Milchan.
Netanyahu, who was questioned by anti-corruption investigators for a fourth time this week, has repeatedly denied the allegations against him, insisting the gifts from Milchan and Packer were friendly gestures.
Milchan has been questioned by Lahav 433 investigators twice so far in connection to Case 1000, and his initial testimony reportedly bolstered the state’s case for corruption indictment against the prime minister.
But on Wednesday, Milchan reportedly “dramatically” walked back two key elements of his testimony.
Channel 2 reported that Milchan retracted the total amount that he spent on the gifts for the Netanyahus and his assertion that the prime minister was aware of the cost.
Despite the shift in testimony, police are still leaning toward recommending an indictment against Netanyahu, the TV station reported on Friday.
Reports last week said Milchan told police he had asked Packer, who is a mutual friend of his and of the Netanyahus, to help shoulder the cost of the gifts and that Packer paid a quarter of the costs.
In light of Milchan’s remarks, police began to pursue Packer for questioning, Channel 2 said, but had yet pin down the globe-trotting billionaire.
Throughout the investigation, Netanyahu has insisted that the gifts were “between friends” and that he himself bought most of the cigars with cash given to him by “a rich relative.”
Netanyahu is facing other police investigations, including Case 2000, where the prime minister is suspected of involvement in a quid pro quo deal with the publisher of the Yedioth Aharonoth daily, Arnon Mozes.