Australian billionaire says he happily gave gifts to Netanyahu, at PM’s request

Australian billionaire says he happily gave gifts to Netanyahu, at PM’s request

PM, questioned 7 times by police, reportedly says James Packer was his 'neighbor and friend' and that he may have asked him to bring things from abroad, but not systematically

James Packer at a news conference of the Studio City project in Macau, October 27, 2015. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
James Packer at a news conference of the Studio City project in Macau, October 27, 2015. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday was presented with testimony given by Australian billionaire James Packer that several Hebrew media reports said strengthened the likelihood of bribery charges against him.

“I admire Prime Minister Netanyahu and am happy that I was given the opportunity to be his friend,” Packer said in his testimony, according to Channel 10, adding, “I was happy to give him presents, many times at his request and his wife Sara’s request.”

Packer also reportedly said that his acquaintance with Netanyahu was started via businessman Arnon Milchan, who “also asked me to help him bring gifts.”

Netanyahu, in response, was said to have told police that Packer “was my neighbor [in Caesarea] and my friend, and it could well be that, now and again, I asked him to bring me something to Israel from abroad. Certainly not in the systematic and planned way that is being put to me. I don’t recall how many times I asked him.”

Netanyahu earlier dismissed the probe examining suspicions he received illegal gifts from businessmen, as police investigators concluded a seventh round of questioning at his Jerusalem residence on Friday.

“There is nothing new under the sun,” Netanyahu wrote in a Facebook post and tweet. “This time, too, I answered all the questions, and again I say with absolute certainty: There will be nothing, because there was nothing. Thank you for the tremendous support!”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, his wife Sara and their son Yair seen with actress Kate Hudson at an event held at the home of producer Arnon Milchan (right), March 6, 2014. (Avi Ohayon/GPO/Flash90)

The session, which began just before 9 a.m. Friday at the Prime Minister’s Residence, lasted 4.5 hours.

It was his final opportunity to refute the suspicions before police pass the case on to the State Prosecution for a decision on which charges, if any, will be brought against him in the case police have dubbed “Case 1000,” Hadashot television news said.

Netanyahu was last interrogated two weeks ago when he sat with investigators for four hours at his official residence in Jerusalem.

Channel 10 reported earlier this week that police were expected to confront Netanyahu in Friday’s questioning with testimony from Milchan, an Israeli film producer suspected of giving the Netanyahu family hundreds of thousands of shekels worth of gifts.

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 from Milchan.

In November, Hadas Klein, Milchan’s personal assistant, told police that Sara Netanyahu would call her up regularly to ask for cigars and champagne, Hadashot news reported at the time.

“There were code words for champagne and cigars,” she was quoted as saying. “It went on for years. There was an understanding that Arnon had to supply the Netanyahu couple with whatever they wanted. The cigars were requested by [Benjamin] Netanyahu personally.”

Channel 10 news also reported that Milchan’s driver told investigators he was once forced to leave his home in the middle of the Passover Seder to deliver champagne at the request of the prime minister’s wife.

While leaked reports of the police investigation have indicated that Milchan spent some NIS 400,000-600,000 ($100,000-150,000) on champagne and cigars for the Netanyahus over the better part of a decade, the prime minister and his wife have reportedly told police that the sums involved were far lower, and that the gifts were not strange because the Milchans and the Netanyahus were best friends. Netanyahu has also reportedly told police the items were given willingly, making them gifts rather than demands.

At the end of November, Israeli investigators in cooperation with Australian authorities questioned Packer as part of the corruption probe.

Police are reportedly looking into whether Netanyahu tried to help Packer gain residency in Israel and aided Milchan with a US visa request. Packer, who also bought a home next to Netanyahu in the upscale coastal city of Caesarea, is reportedly seeking residency status for tax purposes.

In a separate investigation, dubbed “Case 2000” by police, Netanyahu is suspected of conducting a clandestine quid-pro-quo deal with Yedioth Ahronoth publisher and owner Arnon “Noni” Mozes, in which the prime minister was said to have promised Mozes he would hobble Yedioth’s main commercial rival, the freebie Israel Hayom, in exchange for friendlier coverage from Yedioth. It was not clear if Case 2000 also came up in Friday’s questioning.

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