A corruption investigation into Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is reportedly addressing suspicions the premier and his wife illicitly accepted cigars worth hundreds of thousands of shekels and champagne from a Hollywood billionaire.
Channel 2 news reported Thursday evening that Netanyahu received the cigars from acclaimed American-Israeli producer Arnon Milchan over the last seven-eight years. His wife, Sara, received bottles of pink champagne worth hundreds of shekels apiece during that period, the TV report said.
Netanyahu is known as a connoisseur of fine cigars, and Channel 2 noted rumors the prime minister smokes tens of thousands of shekels’ worth of them each month.
Police questioned Netanyahu under caution for a second time Thursday, in a five-hour-long session at his Jerusalem residence that lasted late into the evening, about suspicions he accepted gifts from foreign businessmen. Police announced afterward that they had also interrogated another, unnamed suspect in the case earlier in the week. Some reports said this second suspect was Milchan.
Police had interviewed the prime minister on Monday for three hours, during which Netanyahu admitted that he had received gifts from businessmen, but insisted they were entirely legal exchanges, his lawyer said.
Attorney Yaakov Weinroth told Channel 2 news Tuesday that the two businessmen in question were old friends of the prime minister, 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.
Sources close to Netanyahu have pointed out that Milchan — whose films include “Fight Club” and “Pretty Woman” — sits on the board of Channel 10, which the prime minister has previously tried to shutter.
Channel 10 is also partially owned by US billionaire and World Jewish Congress president Ronald Lauder, who has also been questioned by police in connection with the case. Lauder, whose family founded the Estee Lauder cosmetics giant, has long been seen as an ally of Netanyahu.
Netanyahu has also acknowledged receiving money from French tycoon Arnaud Mimran, who was sentenced to eight years in prison in France over a scam involving the trade of carbon emissions permits and taxes on them.
The Prime Minister’s Office said Netanyahu received $40,000 in contributions from Mimran in 2001, when he was not in office, as part of a fund for public activities, including appearances abroad to promote Israel.
Netanyahu has denied any wrongdoing, saying repeatedly that “there will be nothing because there is nothing.”
The inquiry has led to fierce debate in Israeli politics, with Netanyahu’s allies accusing opposition politicians and some in the media of unfairly pressuring the attorney general.
AFP and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.
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