A senior prosecutor has indicated that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu could be heading toward an indictment in one of the corruption cases he faces.
Speaking at a legal conference on Thursday, prosecutor Liat Ben-Ari appeared to dismiss Netanyahu’s main defense in the graft probe dubbed “Case 1000,” in which police are investigating expensive gifts given to Netanyahu and his family. The Netanyahus have long said these were just normal gifts friends give each other.
But Ben-Ari, of the Tel Aviv District Prosecutor’s finance and tax department, who was recently appointed to head the legal team overseeing the probe, said this was difficult to accept.
“Friendship is a claim that comes up a lot in cases and it is a real defense, but it can’t explain every gift,” Ben-Ari said.
“When you are talking about hundreds of thousands of shekels that are given to a public servant, it’s difficult to accept that it is solely a gift of friendship. No one demands hundreds of thousands of shekels from friends,” she said.
“The types of friendships have to be examined on a case-by-case basis, when did they start, how big were the gifts, etc.,” she said without specifically referring to the Netanyahu case.
Police are probing expensive gifts allegedly given to Netanyahu and his family by US-Israeli movie mogul Arnon Milchan and Australian billionaire James Packer, and whether any actions subsequently taken on their behalf amount to graft or conflicts of interest. The gifts were reportedly valued at hundreds of thousands of dollars and included expensive cigars, champagne, meals and hotel rooms.
A second investigation, dubbed “Case 2000,” concerns the prime minister’s recorded discussions with the publisher of the Yedioth Ahronoth daily Arnon Mozes about a quid pro quo deal to restrict the activities of a rival newspaper through legislation. No such deal was ever implemented.
Netanyahu has repeatedly denied that the gifts and discussions under investigation were illegal.
Communications Minister Tzachi Hanegbi from Netanyahu’s Likud party criticized Ben-Ari for making such comments in public.
“These kinds of things should remain within the investigation and should not be spoken of in public until official announcements are made,” he told Army Radio on Friday, noting that in the end only the attorney general decides on whether to prosecute.
This is not the first time Ben-Ari has led an investigation into a prime minister. She was a prosecutor in the so-called Holyland Affair, a corruption case involving a high-rise real estate project of the same name in Jerusalem that led to the conviction of former prime minister Ehud Olmert.
Olmert was one of eight former officials and businessmen convicted in March 2014 in the corruption case — others included former Jerusalem mayor Uri Lupolianski — which officials have characterized as among the largest graft cases in Israel’s history. Olmert’s conviction in the affair was eventually overturned by the Supreme Court, though Olmert was imprisoned for other corruption offenses.
Last month reports said that police were “unequivocally” planning to recommend that prosecutors indict Netanyahu for Case 1000.