AG ends probe into ex-Mossad chief over $20,000 gift from Australian billionaire

Baharav-Miara announces closure due to statute of limitations, confirms spy agency’s legal adviser gave Yossi Cohen approval to take money from James Packer for daughter’s wedding

(L) Head of the Mossad Yossi Cohen speaks at a Cyber conference at  Tel Aviv University, on June 24, 2019; (R) James Packer at a news conference of the Studio City project in Macau, on October 27, 2015. (Flash90; AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
(L) Head of the Mossad Yossi Cohen speaks at a Cyber conference at Tel Aviv University, on June 24, 2019; (R) James Packer at a news conference of the Studio City project in Macau, on October 27, 2015. (Flash90; AP Photo/Kin Cheung)

Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara on Wednesday announced the closure of a police probe into former Mossad chief Yossi Cohen for allegedly accepting an illicit gift worth $20,000 from Australian billionaire businessman James Packer.

A statement attributed to Baharav-Miara said the move came at the recommendation of State Attorney Amit Aisman and Maj. Gen. Yigal Ben Shalom, head of police’s Investigations and Intelligence Division.

Cohen has acknowledged receiving the money from Packer in 2016 for his daughter’s wedding, while he headed the intelligence agency. The police probe was revealed several months after his tenure as spymaster ended in June 2021.

He has previously said he accepted the funds after consulting Mossad’s legal adviser, and said he was committed to returning them, which he reportedly did last April.

The statement from Baharav-Miara said the police probe confirmed that the spy organization’s then-legal adviser gave Cohen permission to accept the gift from Packer. Even though Cohen received the green light, the matter could have been seen as a potential breach of trust by a public servant, according to the statement.

However, the statute of limitations was already up by the summer of 2021, “around the time the relevant information reached law enforcement authorities and before the preliminary probe had begun,” the statement added.

There was no immediate comment from Cohen on Baharav-Miara’s decision to end the probe.

Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara speaks during a conference at Haifa University, December 15, 2022. (Shir Torem/Flash90)

Cohen was appointed Mossad chief in 2016 by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is accused of illegally accepting gifts from Packer in one of the three corruption cases he is on trial for. Netanyahu has rejected any wrongdoing in all the cases.

After he left Mossad, Israeli television reported that Cohen was suspected of sharing classified information with a flight attendant with whom he was in close personal contact for the past two years. The report at the time said the incident was being reviewed by the attorney general’s office.

There were also allegations that Cohen became involved in a dispute between businessmen Ram Ungar and Michael Levi over Israeli distribution rights for vehicles by South Korean vehicle manufacturer Kia. Ungar gave NIS 1.1 million ($341,654) in donations to a synagogue across from Cohen’s home, The Marker business news website has reported.

However, the incident with the flight attendant and the synagogue donation are unlikely to lead to a full police probe, Channel 13 has reported.

Cohen, 61, was recruited to the Mossad at age 22 while studying in London, rising through its ranks to become its chief after a short stint as Netanyahu’s national security adviser.

Cohen, known as “the model” inside the agency, had an unusually public persona for an Israeli spy chief even as he oversaw secret operations against Iran’s nuclear program and helped guide Israel’s clandestine ties with Arab nations.

Cohen has said he does not rule out seeking to become prime minister one day, though he is not yet actively contemplating such an ambition.

He has also denied any unlawful political relationship between himself and Netanyahu, when he was serving as the Mossad chief and the latter was prime minister.

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