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Netanyahu said suspected of illicit receipt of large sums from 2 businessmen

Israeli TV: 50 people said to have testified in ongoing probe; PM, who denies any wrongdoing, may be called in as soon as next week

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, December 25, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, December 25, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is suspected of the illicit receipt of large funds from a businessman in Israel and another overseas, and may be questioned by police as soon as next week, Israeli television reported on Thursday evening, adding fresh details to simmering reports of corruption allegations against him. Netanyahu has denied any wrongdoing.

Channel 2 news said three top police investigators are being designated to lead an expected criminal investigation of the prime minister, including one whose expertise is in white collar crime. Jerusalem prosecutors are said to be coordinating the probe. The main case against him has been named “Case 1,000” by police, and a second, more minor case is known as “Case 2,000.”

Netanyahu is the prime suspect, and there are “marginal” suspicions against members of his family, the TV report said. A preliminary probe has been running for months, the report said, with some work carried out abroad. Some 50 people have already testified or been questioned over the various allegations, the TV report said.

Initially, “six or seven” sets of allegations were probed, but most of them have been dismissed.

Reports on Wednesday said Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit has approved a full criminal investigation of Netanyahu into allegations of bribery and fraud. The Thursday report said police were “certain” that Mandelblit will formally open the investigation early next week, and that arrangements will then quickly be made for Netanyahu to be questioned.

Questioning Netanyahu will “require several sessions,” it noted.

The Justice Ministry — under whose auspices the attorney general operates — declined a Times of Israel request to comment on Wednesday evening’s report, which was broadcast by Channel 10. There was no immediate response from the Prime Minister’s Office. Netanyahu has repeatedly stated that various allegations of wrongdoing against him will come to nothing “because there is nothing.”

Earlier this month, Zionist Union MK Erel Margalit and Eldad Yaniv, a lawyer and Labor party activist, petitioned the High Court of Justice to demand the attorney general answer why he had not yet opened an investigation despite what they called “overwhelming evidence.”

Writing on Facebook hours before the Channel 10 report, Yaniv said that Mandelblit “realized there was no other choice but to open an investigation” after meetings with senior investigators.

“The police have weighty proof linking Bibi to suspicions of bribery and fraud,” Yaniv wrote.

Channel 2 reported Tuesday that among the suspected offenses are bribe-taking and aggravated fraud.

Illustrative: The offices of Israel Police's Lahav 433 Unit in Lod. (Flash 90)
Illustrative: The offices of Israel Police’s Lahav 433 Unit in Lod. (Flash 90)

In June, Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich gave his go-ahead to the hush-hush probe by the Lahav 433 anti-corruption unit, but demanded full cooperation on secrecy and that no details be leaked to the media, reports earlier this week claimed.

Mandelblit also reportedly instructed employees in the state prosecutor’s office to look into allegations that Netanyahu accepted 1 million euros (about $1.1 million) from convicted French fraudster Arnaud Mimran in 2009.

In May, State Comptroller Yosef Shapira issued a critical report on Netanyahu’s foreign trips, some of which were taken with his wife and children, from 2003 to 2005, when he was finance minister.

Earlier this month, in an apparently unrelated case, there were calls for the prime minister to be investigated for his role in a Defense Ministry deal to purchase submarines from a German company partly owned by the Iranian government.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu aboard the new submarine 'Rahav' at the Israeli navy base in Haifa, on January 12, 2016. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu aboard the new submarine ‘Rahav’ at the Israeli navy base in Haifa, on January 12, 2016. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

That affair dominated public debate in the country last month, as accusations surfaced that the prime minister may have been swayed in the decision by business ties his personal counsel David Shimron had with the submarines’ builder, ThyssenKrupp. The purchase was reportedly opposed by parts of the defense establishment, including former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon.

On Sunday, police descended on the Defense Ministry to gather information relating to a ship-building contract with Germany, as part of a probe into how negotiations for multi-billion-shekel naval deals were handled.

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