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Netanyahu’s son Yair to be questioned by police

As corruption investigation expands, key coalition party said to shoot down possibility of new coalition if PM forced to resign

Raoul Wootliff is the Times of Israel's former political correspondent and producer of the Daily Briefing podcast.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's wife, Sara Netanyahu, together with their son Yair at a Hannukah event, on December 13, 2015. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's wife, Sara Netanyahu, together with their son Yair at a Hannukah event, on December 13, 2015. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s son Yair is expected to be summoned by police for questioning as part of two ongoing criminal investigations into suspicions of graft and quid-pro-quo deals made by the prime minister.

Yair Netanyahu will be questioned by the police’s Lahav 433 anti-corruption unit in the coming days, Channel 10 reported Thursday, a day after his mother, Sara, was questioned by police.

Netanyahu has already been questioned twice under caution over the past two weeks, as the investigations expanded. Speculations have swirled in recent days over whether the prime minister will be forced to resign if an indictment is filed, with the head of a key coalition party shooting down any talk of building a coalition without him, arguing that Israel should call fresh elections if he steps aside.

The questioning of Yair is likely to focus on “Case 1000,” which centers on allegations Netanyahu received hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of cigars, champagne and other gifts, including having hotel rooms for Yair paid for by billionaire benefactors, among them Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan and Australian businessman James Packer.

Yair Netanyahu has also been linked to “Case 2000,” which explores claims the prime minister promised to advance legislation to hobble the Israel Hayom daily if competing paper Yedioth Ahronoth gave him more favorable coverage. Negotiations between Netanyahu and Yedioth publisher Noni Mozes were said to have begun over the prime minister’s efforts to prevent the publication of a story about Yair.

Journalists from Yisrael Hayom and Yedioth Ahronoth as well as several MKs involved in the drafting of a law targeting Israel Hayom will also be questioned in the coming days, reports said. The legislation passed a preliminary Knesset reading in late 2014, and Netanyahu’s resolve to shelve it has been cited as one of the main reasons he called new elections around the same time.

Among the nine government officials reportedly to be interrogated are Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked (Jewish Home), Ilan Gilon (Meretz) and Ariel Attias (Shas).

According to a Channel 2 report Thursday, Sara Netanyahu repeatedly “lost her cool” during her testimony on Wednesday, precipitating shouting matches between her and detectives.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, his wife Sara (C) and their son Yair seen with actress Kate Hudson at an event held at the home of producer Arnon Milchan (right), March 6, 2014. (Avi Ohayon/GPO/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, his wife Sara (C) and their son Yair seen with actress Kate Hudson at an event held at the home of producer Arnon Milchan (right), March 6, 2014. (Avi Ohayon/GPO/Flash90)

The report said that Sara told interrogators that the Netanyahus also gave gifts to Milchan, arguing that friends exchange presents — a notion shot down by police sources who told Channel 2 that there was no comparison to the scale of the gifts given to the Netanyahu family by Milchan, said to amount to hundreds of thousands of shekels.

Channel 2 aired receipts totaling some NIS 57,000 ($15,000) it said were of Milchan’s champagne purchases for Sara Netanyahu. She has not denied receiving champagne, but held that it was a legitimate gift between friends.

Her lawyers responded in a statement that the report had several inaccuracies.

The escalating probes have led to speculation that the prime minister might need to step down, and reports have surfaced alleging that members of Netanyahu’s own Likud party have been preparing for various scenarios in case he is forced to resign over a criminal indictment.

Newly appointed deputy coalition chairman Oren Hazan said earlier Thursday there were “more than a few” party members already forming factions or mulling a run for the Likud chairmanship.

On Wednesday, Channel 10 quoted a Likud minister as saying the new details that have emerged in both investigations in recent days were “a game-changer.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks with leader of the Shas party, Aryeh Deri, during a plenum session in the Knesset on May 4, 2015. (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks with leader of the Shas party, Aryeh Deri, during a plenum session in the Knesset on May 4, 2015. (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)

“You can smell it in the air that the era of Netanyahu is coming to an end. We need to prepare for the day after,” the unnamed minister was quoted as saying.

According to the Channel 2 report on Thursday, senior coalition members who were looking to put together an alternative government without the head of the Likud party seemed to have backed away from their efforts amid an announcement by Shas head Aryeh Deri that if an indictment is forthcoming, Israel should go to elections, not build a new coalition.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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