Miryam Adelson, Israel’s richest person and the publisher of the Israel Hayom tabloid, reportedly told police that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s wife Sara tried to get her to buy her expensive gifts and also tried to have the paper’s political correspondent fired.
Adelson’s comments came from leaked transcripts published by Channel 12 news on Friday, and were part of the graft probe into Netanyahu who is being investigated in three cases involving receiving hundreds of thousands of shekels in gifts from rich benefactors and for trying to illicitly influence media coverage of himself.
According to the transcripts Adelson told investigators that “she once showed me a necklace. She said that Arnon (Milchan) had bought it for her, Tiffany, or something like that.”
Asked by the investigator how she had hinted, Adelson replied: “If someone shows you… and you are a billionaire and someone shows you a watch and says ‘look at this Rolex, this is the one someone bought me,’ doesn’t it hint that you also want?”
Another time she requested a handbag, Adelson told investigators, noting that she refused all the requests because she and her husband, US billionaire Sheldon Adelson, operated casinos and had to avoid appearances of impropriety.
“I said to her, Saraleh, I have a casino licence and I can’t do things like that,” she told investigators, calling such actions a “grey area.”
“She is elected .. she is the wife of an elected official and I can’t give her things,” she said. “I have to act completely transparently everywhere in the world,” she said noting that because the Adelson’s have casinos in China, she can’t even invite Chinese officials to dinner.
In Case 1000, the so-called gifts scandal, Netanyahu is suspected of “systematically” demanding benefits worth about NIS 1 million ($282,000) from billionaire benefactors, including Arnon Milchan and Australian resort owner James Packer, in exchange for favors.
He has claimed that receiving gifts from friends does not constitute a conflict of interest.
Adelson also detailed how Sara had pressured her paper to fire veteran political reporter Shlomo Cesana for not being enthusiastic enough about Netanyahu in covering one of his trips to Russia.
Adelson said that the prime minister’s office refused to let Cesana join on future trips. In response the paper refused to send another reporter and the PMO eventually backed down and let him go on future visits.
“That she called him and screamed at him ‘Miri will fire you,’ that annoyed me. What’s this chutzpa calling a journalist at the paper and screaming, just screaming,” Adelson said.
The Prime Minister’s Office slammed the Channel 12 report, saying, “These are more skewed, gossipy, tabloid leaks, published on the eve of elections in order to harm Prime Minister Netanyahu and Likud. At least the public now knows how a quarter million shekels were wasted investigating the prime minister.”
The reports present a different side to the relationship between the Adelsons and the Netanyahus. The casino mogul and his wife have been key backers of Netanyahu and the establishment of the paper was seen as a move to give Netanyahu positive media coverage.
This was the second set of transcripts leaked from Adelson’s testimony.
On Thursday it was revealed that the relationship devolved from friendly into “constant complaints” and even “screams on the phone” on the part of the Netanyahus, mostly Sara, to the point where Miriam Adelson would set the receiver down so she wouldn’t have to hear the shouting.
According to Adelson, Sara Netanyahu went as far as telling her that it would be her fault if Iran used nuclear weapons against Israel and wiped out the country.
The leak is the latest in a series of transcripts leaked to Channel 12 from the three corruption investigations surrounding the prime minister, which have turned Channel 12’s legal affairs correspondent Guy Peleg into a favored target in right-wing denunciations of the media in the current election campaign.
Adelson was questioned as a witness by police in an investigation dubbed “Case 2000,” involving a suspected illicit quid pro quo deal between the prime minister and Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper publisher Arnon Mozes beginning in 2009 that would have seen Benjamin Netanyahu weaken Israel Hayom, Yedioth’s main rival, in return for more favorable coverage from Yedioth.
Under the alleged agreement, which was not implemented, the prime minister offered to advance legislation to curb the circulation of Israel Hayom by outlawing freebie newspapers — if Mozes instructed his reporters and op-ed writers to soften their often negative stance toward him.
The prime minister will face his pre-indictment hearing before Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit in the case on October 2-3.
The hearing will cover two additional corruption probes in which he is a main suspect, known as cases 1000 and 4000. He faces expected charges of fraud and breach of trust in all three, and bribery in Case 4000.
In Case 4000, seen as the most serious of the three, the prime minister is suspected of offering regulatory benefits to the controlling shareholder of the Bezeq telecom giant, Shaul Elovitch, in exchange for positive coverage of him and his family in the Elovitch-owned Walla news site.
Netanyahu denies any wrongdoing in all the cases against him.