Israeli-born Hollywood mogul Arnon Milchan was reportedly questioned under caution by Israeli police on suspicion of bribing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The interrogation, which took place over a number of sessions last week in London, marked the first time Arnon Milchan was questioned as a suspect in the criminal investigation known as Case 1000, with his interrogation further strengthening the suspicions against him, Hebrew media reports said Tuesday.
In the case, Netanyahu and his wife Sara are suspected of receiving illicit gifts from billionaire benefactors, most notably hundreds of thousands of shekels’ worth of cigars and champagne from Milchan.
According to a Haaretz report, police questioned Milchan, who has previously provided testimony in the investigation, over suspicions he bribed the prime minister in exchange for Netanyahu’s assistance in advancing his business interests in Israel and abroad. Particularly, Milchan allegedly helped to orchestrate the sale of a controlling bloc of shares at Channel 10 to RGE Group, a media company owned in part by British-American billionaire Leonard Blavatnik.
Channel 2 said Milchan strengthened the suspicions against Netanyahu. It also said Milchan was not expected to be prosecuted in the affair.
A source close to Netanyahu was quoted by the Ynet news website denying the allegations.
“Any attempt to attach a tinge of inappropriateness to the deep and long-standing friendship between Prime Minister Netanyahu and Arnon Milchan is baseless and and doomed to fail,” the source said.
Channel 2 reported last week that police investigators were set to question Blavatnik in a separate criminal investigation involving Netanyahu known as Case 2000.
Milchan reportedly confirmed to police in previous testimony that he gave gifts worth hundreds of thousands of shekels to Netanyahu and his wife Sara over many years, but said he never expected anything in return. He is said to have later “dramatically” changed his story, altering the total amount that he spent on the gifts for the Netanyahus and the assertion that the prime minister was aware of the costs.
It has been reported that Netanyahu intervened on Milchan’s behalf with former US secretary of state John Kerry to successfully obtain a 10-year US residency visa for him.
In addition to Case 1000, Milchan has also been linked to Case 2000, which involves a suspected illicit quid pro quo deal between Netanyahu and Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper publisher Arnon “Noni” Mozes that would have seen the prime minister hobble a rival daily, the Sheldon Adelson-backed Israel Hayom, in return for more favorable coverage from Yedioth.
According to reports, Netanyahu and Milchan allegedly sought to mediate between Mozes and a number of individuals to facilitate the sale of the Hebrew daily, including Blavatnik, Australian billionaire James Packer, Oracle chief Larry Ellison, and Mattias Dopfner, the CEO of Germany’s Axel Springer publishing group.
Mozes is then believed to have met with several of those potential buyers, according to a Channel 2 report in January.
Netanyahu, who has denied any wrongdoing, has increasingly lashed out at the media of late amid developments in the cases, accusing the press of playing up the investigations against him in order to end his premiership and devoting an inordinate amount of attention to weekly protests near Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit’s home in Petah Tikva calling for the prime minister to be indicted.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.