Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly told investigators in one of the two graft investigations against him that he didn’t know about bottles of champagne gifted to his wife, Sara, by Hollywood movie producer Arnon Milchan.
According to a report Tuesday by Channel 2 news, which cited leaked details of his interrogations by police, Netanyahu distanced himself from the gifts of champagne, allegedly worth many thousands of shekels, and jewelry that Sara allegedly received from Milchan over the years.
Netanyahu told police that he and his wife were “independent people” and that he thus shouldn’t be expected be to be aware of all of her actions, which included, reportedly, receiving regular deliveries of high-end champagne.
The prime minister also defended himself against claims he received from Milchan boxes of cigars over several years, also worth many thousands of shekels. (The billionaire Milchan is reported to have provided the couple with hundreds of thousands of shekels’ worth of gifts in all.)
Netanyahu told police he didn’t check the cost of each cigar and certainly not the total value over the years, the Channel 2 report said. He also reportedly asserted that some cigars he bought with his own money.
He is being investigated in two separate corruption cases. As details of the probes have emerged, they have also fueled speculation that, should he be indicted, his governing coalition could collapse, boosting the prospect of new elections.
Netanyahu has denied any wrongdoing.
In the first case, known as “Case 1000,” police are checking whether the Netanyahus received some NIS 400,000-600,000 ($100,000-150,000) in gifts of cigars and fine wines from Milchan. The couple have reportedly insisted that the sums involved were far lower, and that the gifts were unremarkable since the Milchans are their best friends.
The second case, dubbed “Case 2000,” involves the alleged negotiations with the publisher of the Yedioth Aharonoth daily, Arnon Mozes, and focuses on the prime minister’s supposed promise to advance legislation to hobble the Sheldon Adelson-controlled Israel Hayom paper in exchange for more favorable coverage from Yedioth.
Channel 2, reporting last month on what it said was the Hollywood producer’s testimony to police in the preceding weeks, said Milchan told investigators that cigars, champagne and other valuables he gave to the Netanyahus started as occasional gifts, but morphed into a steady supply. The prime minister and his wife would make specific demands, and even send him reminders, and he would send supplies, the TV report quoted Milchan as saying.
The premier is also being investigated for gifts allegedly received from other businessmen. He has been questioned by police three times in the cases.
Netanyahu has charged that the investigations are the consequence of a deliberate effort by the media and left-wing political opponents to oust him in what amounts to “an attempt at a coup.”