search

Netanyahu questioned a second time in graft investigation

Prime minister has admitted receiving gifts, but claims they were not valuable enough to constitute bribes

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a Conference of Israeli ambassadors at the Foreign Ministry office, in Jerusalem, January 3, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a Conference of Israeli ambassadors at the Foreign Ministry office, in Jerusalem, January 3, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was being questioned a second time under caution by police investigators on Thursday evening, as they look into corruption allegations against him including suspicions that he received illegal gifts from foreign businessmen.

The prime minister has denied any wrongdoing.

According to the Hebrew-language Walla website, the questioning is likely to last longer than the three-hour interview with police the prime minister underwent on Monday.

During that meeting, held at the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem, Netanyahu admitted 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 two businessmen in question were old friends of the prime minister, he said, and the gifts being looked into were “the smallest of trifles.”

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 alleged financial improprieties by the prime minister.

Channel 10 news reported Tuesday that the gifts were believed to have been worth hundreds of thousands of shekels. The report did not specify the nature of the gifts.

Attorney Yaakov Weinroth on Channel 2's "Meet the Press," November 26, 2016. (screen capture)
Attorney Yaakov Weinroth on Channel 2’s “Meet the Press,” November 26, 2016. (screen capture)

Weinroth said earlier this week that Netanyahu was “calm” before Monday’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.”

After Netanyahu was interrogated 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.

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.”

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit attends a Constitution, Law, and Justice, Committee meeting in the Knesset, July 18, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit attends a Constitution, Law, and Justice, Committee meeting in the Knesset, July 18, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

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.

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 in France 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.

read more:
comments
Never miss breaking news on Israel
Get notifications to stay updated
You're subscribed