Netanyahu interrogated for over 4 hours in graft probes

TV report says prime minister likely to be questioned at least 3 more times over corruption suspicions

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives at the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on November 7, 2017. (Olivier Fitoussi/Pool/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives at the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on November 7, 2017. (Olivier Fitoussi/Pool/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was grilled by police on Thursday for over four hours in a pair of criminal investigations involving suspicions he received illegal gifts and favors from businessman for advancing their business interests.

“We confirm that the prime minister was interrogated for several hours at his residence in Jerusalem, as part of the investigation conducted by the Lahav 433” anti-corruption unit, police said in a statement.

Police did not provide any further details on the interrogation, his first since March and his fifth session since he was named a suspect late last year.

Channel 10 reported Thursday evening that Netanyahu is likely to be questioned at least three more times following the latest interrogation.

After the police grilling, Netanyahu took to Twitter to repeat his usual denial regarding the investigations.

“There will be nothing, because there was nothing,” he said.

Police investigators arrive at the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem to question Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a pair of corruption investigations, on November 9, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Netanyahu is facing two separate criminal investigations, known as Case 1000 and Case 2000. He has denied wrongdoing in both cases.

Case 1000 revolves around alleged illicit gifts given to Netanyahu and his family by billionaire benefactors, most notably hundreds of thousands of shekels’ worth of cigars and champagne from the Israeli-born Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan.

Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, have denied that receiving the gifts constitutes a criminal offense, claiming the value of the items was significantly lower than reported, and that they were mere “trifles” exchanged between close friends.

Arnon Milchan (center) with Shimon Peres (left) and Benjamin Netanyahu, March 28, 2005. (Flash90)

Earlier this week, Israel’s Ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer was reportedly questioned by police as part of the investigation.

Dermer, considered a close associate of Netanyahu, confirmed to police that at the direction of the prime minister, he asked then-secretary of state John Kerry to help obtain a visa for Milchan, according to the Hadashot news (formerly Channel 2).

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.

Case 2000 is focused on an alleged clandestine quid-pro-quo deal made between Netanyahu and Yedioth Ahronoth publisher and owner Arnon “Noni” Mozes, in which the prime minister was said to have promised Mozes he would advance legislation to reduce the circulation of Yedioth’s main commercial rival, the freebie Israel Hayom, in exchange for friendlier coverage from Yedioth.

On Wednesday, amid legislative efforts critics say are tied to the Netanyahu investigation, lawmakers advanced a bill that would ban police from giving state prosecutors their opinion on lodging criminal charges against suspects at the conclusion of an investigation.

The contentious proposal by Likud MK David Amsalem — opposed by police, the state attorney, and the attorney general — cleared its preliminary reading in the Knesset plenum with 52 lawmakers in favor, 42 opposed, on Wednesday.

Likud MK David Amsalem and Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich attend a committee meeting in the Knesset on October 31, 2017.(Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Although police don’t recommend outright whether to file indictments, they do provide prosecutors with a summary that notes whether there is sufficient evidence a crime was committed.

The bill is seen as part of a spate of recent legislative efforts by coalition politicians to make it harder for prosecutors to charge public officials, and to pressure police over the Netanyahu investigations.

Police investigators are also expected to set a date for Netanyahu to provide testimony as a witness in Case 3000, which involves suspected corruption by senior officials, among them several associates of the prime minister, in Israel’s decision to purchase German submarines.

In an apparent attempt to block police from making Netanyahu a suspect in Case 3000, and potentially also put an end to Cases 1000 and 2000, Amsalem had initially proposed a bill that would grant serving prime ministers immunity from corruption investigations.

Despite threats from Likud lawmakers to bring down the government if that bill was not advanced, the proposal has now been shelved amid coalition disagreements.

Marissa Newman and Raoul Wootliff contributed to this report. 

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