After questioning, investigators favor indicting Netanyahu – report

TV provides leaked transcript from PM’s questioning by police, where he is asked about his ties to billionaire Arnon Milchan

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem on November 7, 2017. (AFP/Pool/Ariel Schalit)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem on November 7, 2017. (AFP/Pool/Ariel Schalit)

A day after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was interrogated for the fifth time in a series of corruption probes, senior law enforcement officials have concluded there is sufficient evidence to file an indictment against him on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust, Channel 10 reported Friday.

The report quoted an unofficial police opinion according to which the evidence that has accumulated against Netanyahu is robust. The report also included a leaked transcript from Netanyahu’s questioning on Thursday. Netanyahu has repeatedly railed against police for leaking details from the investigation.

The State Attorney’s Office, Channel 10 reported, was also coming to the opinion that there are grounds to file an indictment on bribery, but was not as sure as the police. A Hadashot News (formerly Channel 2) report had similar information.

Netanyahu is expected to be interrogated three more times, Channel 10 reported.

Netanyahu is facing two separate criminal investigations, known as Case 1000 and Case 2000. He has denied wrongdoing in both cases.

Case 1000 revolves around alleged illicit gifts given to Netanyahu and his family by billionaire benefactors, most notably hundreds of thousands of shekels’ worth of cigars and champagne from the Israeli-born Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan.

Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, have denied that receiving the gifts constitutes a criminal offense, claiming the value of the items was significantly lower than reported, and that they were mere “trifles” exchanged between close friends.

Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan (screen capture: YouTube/amitost)

Netanyahu was interrogated for four hours on Thursday evening in Jerusalem, and was confronted with a testimony given to police by Milchan.

“We know that you tried to promote a free trade zone project in cooperation with Milchan and Indian billionaire Ratan Tata. Is this another way of making things better for Milchan?” the interrogators asked, according to the leaked transcript.

“This is a national project. Milchan has nothing to do with it,” the prime minister replied. “It’s a project that would generate a lot of money for the country and would give employment to Palestinians as well as Israelis. I did not even know Milchan was involved,” Netanyahu told the detectives, according to Channel 10.

Milchan has reportedly told the police that he had indeed discussed the project with Netanyahu. But last week Tata published a letter in which he supported Netanyahu and wrote that he, too, did not know that Milchan was involved in the free trade zone project with Jordan.

The interrogators, according to Channel 10, also asked Netanyahu whether there was a connection between his efforts to advance the matter of a US visa for Milchan and the gifts Milchan gave him and his family.

“There is no connection,” Netanyahu responded. “My ties with Milchan go years back. He has been a friend for years. I tried to help him because of his contribution to the State of Israel, just as I helped many others.”

On Thursday evening, after the interrogation, Netanyahu wrote a defiant tweet. “I say again tonight with complete confidence: nothing will come out of it, because there is nothing [wrong].”

Earlier this week, Israel’s Ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer was reportedly questioned by police as part of the investigation.

Israeli Ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer speaks at the Omni Shoreham hotel in Washington, DC, June 9, 2017. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images via JTA)

Dermer, considered a close associate of Netanyahu, confirmed to police that at the direction of the prime minister, he asked then-secretary of state John Kerry to help obtain a visa for Milchan, according to Hadashot news.

The television station also reported that the US State Department is preventing Israeli investigators from gathering testimony from former US ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro over the visa request.

Case 2000 is focused on an alleged clandestine quid pro quo deal made between Netanyahu and Yedioth Ahronoth publisher and owner Arnon “Noni” Mozes, in which the prime minister was said to have promised Mozes he would advance legislation to reduce the circulation of Yedioth’s main commercial rival, the freebie Israel Hayom, in exchange for friendlier coverage from Yedioth.

On Wednesday, amid legislative efforts critics say are tied to the Netanyahu investigation, lawmakers advanced a bill that would ban police from giving state prosecutors their opinion on lodging criminal charges against suspects at the conclusion of an investigation.

The contentious proposal by Likud MK David Amsalem — opposed by police, the state attorney and the attorney general — cleared its preliminary reading in the Knesset plenum with 52 lawmakers in favor, 42 opposed, on Wednesday.

The bill is seen as part of a spate of recent legislative efforts by coalition politicians to make it harder for prosecutors to charge public officials, and to pressure police over the Netanyahu investigations.

Alexander Fulbright, Marissa Newman and Raoul Wootliff contributed to this report. 

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