Israel’s Ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer was reportedly questioned by police as part of an ongoing investigation into suspicions Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu received bribes from an Israeli-born Hollywood mogul in exchange for advancing his business interests.
Dermer, considered a close associate of Netanyahu, confirmed to police that, on the direction of the prime minister, he asked then-secretary of state John Kerry to help organize a visa for Arnon Milchan, Hadashot news (formerly Channel 2) reported Tuesday.
Netanyahu and Milchan are being investigated in police “Case 1000,” which allegedly saw Milchan supplying Netanyahu and his wife Sara with cigars, alcohol and jewelry to the tune of hundreds of thousands of shekels.
Both deny the gifts involved any exchange of favors and were merely gestures of friendship. Under questioning, Milchan reportedly denied Netanyahu intervened on his behalf Kerry to successfully obtain a 10-year US residency visa for him, saying he turned to many people to help and had only asked Netanyahu to clarify the status of his visa request.
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.
Channel 10 reported in September that police received permission from Israeli authorities to question Shapiro, who finished his term as ambassador in January but continues to live in Israel.
Netanyahu is said to have asked Shapiro in 2014 to intervene and arrange a long-term US visa for Milchan.
In addition to the US visa, police are reportedly investigating whether Netanyahu intervened in the sale of the Channel 10 shares to benefit Milchan financially, and whether the prime minister sought help the Hollywood producer secure a major interest in Channel 2.
Born in Israel, the LA-based Hollywood producer Milchan, 72, never became a US citizen, but used to enjoy 10-year visas to live there. However, in 2013, he gave an interview to Israel’s Channel 2 in which he acknowledged that he had worked in the past for the Israeli intelligence community. In the wake of his disclosures, according to Channel 2, Milchan — behind such movie hits as “Fight Club,” “Pretty Woman,” “LA Confidential,” “12 Years a Slave” and “The Big Short” — was no longer afforded 10-year US visas, and instead was required to apply for an annual extension.
Police are currently checking whether the Netanyahus received some NIS 400,000-600,000 ($100,000-150,000) in gifts of cigars and fine wines from Milchan. The couple have reportedly insisted that the sums involved were far lower, and that the gifts were unremarkable seeing that the Milchans are their close friends. Other businessmen are also alleged to have provided the Netanyahus with gifts.
The prime minister is also a suspect in a second case over control over Israeli media interests. Case 2000 involves alleged negotiations with the publisher of the Yedioth Aharonoth daily, Arnon Mozes, and focuses on the prime minister’s supposed promise to advance legislation to hobble the Sheldon Adelson-controlled Israel Hayom paper in exchange for more favorable coverage from Yedioth.
Netanyahu has denied wrongdoing in the cases.