Prime minister’s wife testifies to police as probes expand
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Prime minister’s wife testifies to police as probes expand

Sara Netanyahu summoned over gifts affair, according to reports; Labor MK grilled on Israel Hayom bill as police look into alleged quid pro quo between PM and publisher

Sara Netanyahu, wife of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, attends a court hearing in Jerusalem, on May 10, 2015 (AFP/Gali Tibbon)
Sara Netanyahu, wife of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, attends a court hearing in Jerusalem, on May 10, 2015 (AFP/Gali Tibbon)

Sara Netanyahu, the wife of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has testified to police over a criminal investigation into expensive gifts allegedly received by the Netanyahus from wealthy businessmen, according to reports Thursday morning.

Sara Netanyahu gave testimony to the police’s national fraud unit in Lod on Wednesday night, according to several reports carried by Hebrew-language media.

The investigation reportedly revolves around gifts the Netanyahus received from Israeli movie producer Arnon Milchan and other businessmen, including hundreds of thousands of shekels worth of cigars for the prime minister and pricey bottles of champagne for Sara Netanyahu.

Police have refused to confirm details into the investigation and there was no immediate official confirmation that she was questioned from Sara Netanyahu’s spokesperson.

A spokesperson for the police said they could not confirm or deny the reports but added it is only policy to release information about public figures if they were questioned under caution and not if they just gave testimony.

Benjamin Netanyahu has been questioned under caution by police twice over the case as well as over a second affair into an alleged quid pro quo deal with Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Arnon Mozes. The second probe, known as Case 2000, has also widened in recent days, with MK Eitan Cabel questioned earlier in the week, according to Thursday reports.

Arnon Milchan, left, and Benjamin Netanyahu on March 28, 2005. (Flash90)
Arnon Milchan, left, and Benjamin Netanyahu on March 28, 2005. (Flash90)

Police seized receipts for gifts worth up to NIS 400,000 ($104,000) given to Netanyahu by Milchan, a well-known Hollywood figure, 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 asked US Secretary of State John Kerry three times in 2014 to arrange a long-term visa for Milchan to live in the United States. The visa was granted.

Netanyahu told police he and his wife had also given gifts to Milchan, 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.

The prime minister has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, and his lawyer has insisted Netanyahu has done nothing illegal.

Cabel questioned

The second case reportedly revolves around allegations that Netanyahu and Mozes attempted to reach a deal whereby the latter’s newspaper, Yedioth Ahronoth, would take a more favorable stance toward the prime minister in exchange for the advancement of a bill that would force free daily Israel Hayom, seen as a pro-Netanyahu rival to Yedioth, to contract or disband.

The bill, which would have made free papers illegal, was proposed by Cabel. On Tuesday, Cabel reportedly told police that he knew of no such quid pro quo regarding Netanyahu and Israel Hayom.

“The testimony was brief. They wanted to check whether I had given everything I knew, because I had no hint of a clue of any of the conversation between the two gentlemen, this disreputable and embarrassing conversation.” Cabel told Army Radio.

Knesset Economics Committee Chair MK Eitan Cabel (Zionist Union) in a committee meeting about the controversial natural gas deal, December 2, 2015. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Knesset Economics Committee Chair MK Eitan Cabel (Zionist Union) in a committee meeting about the controversial natural gas deal, December 2, 2015. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Mozes is also reportedly set to be questioned by police for a second time, after Netanyahu reportedly told investigators he was playing along with Mozes to gauge the newspaper publisher’s plans, but was not serious about a deal with the publisher, his arch-rival.

The investigations have cast a pall over Netanyahu’s term, with some saying an indictment in either case could force him from power.

On Wednesday night, Channel 10 quoted an unnamed Likud minister saying the new details in both investigations “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 channel also said that Environmental Protection Minister Ze’ev Elkin (Likud) was summoned to police to give testimony. However, Elkin’s spokesperson denied the report.

Tourism Minister Yariv Levin gave testimony to police Sunday, according to a Wednesday report.

According to a Wednesday Haaretz report, Netanyahu threatened Mozes during their talks.

Publisher and owner of the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper Noni Mozes seen in Tel Aviv on March 26, 2014. (Roni Schutzer/Flash90)
Publisher and owner of the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper Noni Mozes seen in Tel Aviv on March 26, 2014. (Roni Schutzer/Flash90)

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 the 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.”

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