Indian billionaire named in PM graft case denies partnership with key suspect

Indian billionaire named in PM graft case denies partnership with key suspect

Ratan Tata says allegation he joined forces with Arnon Milchan in project backed by Netanyahu is 'factually incorrect'

Raoul Wootliff covers politics, corruption and crime for The Times of Israel.

Indian industrialist Ratan Tata at the 'Make in India' event in Mumbai, India, February 15, 2016. (AP Photo//Rafiq Maqbool)
Indian industrialist Ratan Tata at the 'Make in India' event in Mumbai, India, February 15, 2016. (AP Photo//Rafiq Maqbool)

Indian billionaire Ratan Tata, the head of the Tata business conglomerate, on Thursday denied links to Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan after being named by police in indictment recommendations against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“The reports in the media of a ‘partnership with Arnon Milchan’ and the claim of ‘a huge profit’ are both factually incorrect and appear to be motivated,” a statement from Tata’s office said.

Ratan Tata is head of the Tata business conglomerate and hails from one of the most prominent Indian families. The largest company in India and one of the most influential in the world, the Tata Group and its subsidiaries own hundreds of global companies and financial services and are engaged in a similar number of quasi-governmental projects around the world.

The project in question was a 2009 proposal for Tata Motors, which includes the Jaguar and Land Rover brands, to build a low volume automotive assembly plant in the West Bank intended to provide skilled jobs to Palestinians. The estimated $250 million plan, which was proposed as part of an Israeli-Jordanian peace initiative, was to include a free trade corridor to Haifa to offset higher logistic costs in Israel, the company said.

Netanyahu is suspected of pushing the project on behalf of Milchan, whose security firm Blue Sky International was to assist in the planning.

Arnon Milchan, left, and Benjamin Netanyahu on March 28, 2005. (Flash90)

“The prime minister is suspected of working to advance a business project that Milchan had a direct interest in being approved as part of his partnership with Indian businessman Ratan Tata,” police said on Tuesday, recommending charges against Netanyahu and Milchan for a number of bribery schemes in which Milchan allegedly gave the prime minister expensive gifts in return for political favors.

“The prime minister is suspected of trying to push the deal at the request of Milchan, against the opinion of officials in the Prime Minister’s Office and the Defense Ministry,” the police recommendations continued.

Tata’s statement insisted that “these discussions on the project were directly held between a Tata team and the Israeli authorities and not with Arnon Milchan as stated by the Israeli media.”

“Tata wishes to clarify once again that there has never been any partnership in any such project with Milchan,” the statement concluded.

The alleged bribery scheme is part of the so-called Case 1000 by police, in which Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, are said to have received illicit gifts from billionaire benefactors, including some NIS 750,000 ($212,000) worth of cigars, champagne, jewelry and clothing from Milchan and some NIS 250,000 ($70,000) worth of gifts from Milchan’s business partner James Packer.

Police on Tuesday published their recommendations that Netanyahu be prosecuted for breach of trust, fraud and bribery in both of the corruption cases they have been investigating.

The second case, dubbed Case 2000, involves a suspected illicit quid pro quo deal between Netanyahu and Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper publisher Arnon Mozes that would have seen the prime minister weaken a rival daily, the Sheldon Adelson-backed Israel Hayom, in return for more favorable coverage from Yedioth.

Netanyahu has denied any wrongdoing in both cases.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reacts to the Israel’s Police recommendation he be indicted for bribery in a pair of criminal investigations on February 13, 2018. (Screen capture: Facebook)

Testifying to Israeli police in November, Tata confirmed that Milchan’s Blue Sky International security advisory firm provided services to the Tata-owned Taj Hotel Group, following the 2009 terrorist attack in Mumbai, according to a statement released by his office at the time.

The statement said Tata told police that Milchan “was requested by a member of the Israeli security team to assist in preparing a concept plan for the project,” but that he has never discussed the project with him.

Asked by investigators whether the prime minister had been involved, “Tata stated that there had been one meeting of about 10-15 minutes where Netanyahu was present at which he had suggested one or two preferred sites for the plant,” the statement added.

Indian media reported that a concept layout plan for the plant was drawn up but the project died a natural death when the peace initiative was dropped.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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