Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu admitted to police during his first session of questioning on Monday that he had received gifts from businessmen, but insisted they were entirely legal, his lawyer said Tuesday.
Yaakov Weinroth told Channel 2 news that the prime minister had denied any wrongdoing: The two businessmen in question were old friends of the prime minister, he said, and the gifts being looked into were “the smallest of trifles.”
Meanwhile Channel 10 news reported that the gifts were believed to have been worth hundreds of thousands of shekels. It did not say whether the prime minister had given any statement on their value.
Netanyahu will be interrogated by police for a second time Friday over suspicions of corruption, Channel 2 said.
Weinroth said Netanyahu was “calm before” yesterday’s questioning and remained calm after. Having heard police’s questions and his client’s answers, he added, “I can say with certainty… he can be very calm.”
However, police sources told Channel 2 that Netanyahu had so far been shown only a small fraction of the evidence in the case.
Details of the investigation have been kept under wraps, with Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit saying only that Netanyahu is suspected of “receiving improper benefits from businessmen.”
Asked if the public should not be privy to further information when the subject of investigation was the nation’s leader, Weinroth agreed that details should be released, but only upon completion of the probe.
“The public has a right to know and the public will know, after the investigation is over,” he said, noting that disclosing details now would obstruct the investigation.
He alleged that unnamed rivals of the prime minister were lodging false complaints against him, citing as evidence the closing of four other probes into Netanyahu’s conduct.
“It’s very simple to take a journalist, to go to the police, to sell a false story,” he said. “The prime minister is constantly under attack… and each time it turns out that there’s nothing to [the allegations].”
After Netanyahu was interrogated for three hours Monday night, Mandelblit confirmed in a statement for the first time that he had ordered a criminal investigation into allegations of wrongdoing by the prime minister, issuing a full statement detailing the lead-up to the investigation.
While Mandelblit omitted specifics of the investigation, he detailed the four cases of suspected wrongdoing that were not included in the investigation because of a lack of evidence. They included allegations of illicit campaign finance during the 2009 election, forging results of the Likud primaries in that year, and receiving double payments for flights to speaking engagements abroad.
Mandelblit said that he had first ordered a “probe” into Netanyahu in June 2016 after he was presented with information by the Lahav 433 anti-corruption unit that included “a long list of allegations that the prime minister had carried out apparent crimes breaching ethical norms.”
Mandelblit decided to move from a probe to a full-blown criminal investigation “after he was presented with the opinion of the state attorney and the head of the police investigations and intelligence unit that the probe had found sufficient evidence justifying investigating the prime minister under caution,” the statement read.
In his first public statements since being questioned Monday night, Netanyahu slammed media coverage of several other now-closed corruption cases, vowing that the latest allegations would also prove to be “nothing.”
“Bibitours — nothing! A claim of illicit campaign funding — nothing! A claim of skewing primary results — nothing! A claim of receiving gifts abroad and funding for flights — nothing!” the prime minister wrote on Facebook, listing the past corruption cases against him that Mandelblit said had been closed.
“Years of daily persecution against me and my family have been confirmed yesterday as having been nothing,” Netanyahu added. “Will someone in the media apologize for the thousands of headlines, hours of broadcasting ‘investigative journalism at its best’ that have turned out to be total nonsense? Certainly not [Channel 10 reporter Raviv] Drucker.”
Drucker has been a longtime thorn in Netanyahu’s side, exposing several scandals about the Israeli leader. In return, Netanyahu has berated him personally, sued him and reportedly tried to get him fired.
In what has become known as the “Bibitours” case, Drucker detailed 10 years of the Netanyahu family’s overseas travel expenses that included flights, hotels and meals paid for by rich associates. The report showed copies of receipts and a list of potential donors in Netanyahu’s own handwriting.
Turning to the current investigation in his Facebook post, Netanyahu repeated his mantra: “There will be nothing — because there is nothing.”
It is unclear if and how the current investigation is linked to a number of cases involving reported financial impropriety by Netanyahu and his family.
In June, he acknowledged receiving money from French tycoon Arnaud Mimran, who was sentenced to eight years in jail over a $315 million scam involving the trade of carbon emissions permits and the taxes on them.
In May, Israel’s state comptroller released a critical report about Netanyahu’s foreign trips, some with his wife and children, between 2003 and 2005, when he was finance minister.
And there have been allegations the couple spent public funds on garden furniture and electrical repairs at their private villa in the coastal resort town of Caesarea.
A former staffer has accused Sara Netanyahu of pocketing cash from deposit refunds for empty bottles returned from the official residence between 2009 and 2013, money that should have gone to the treasury.
In 2013, Netanyahu reimbursed the state $1,000 but the staffer has said the figure should have been six times higher.
AP contributed to this report.