Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was grilled by police on Thursday in a pair of criminal investigations involving suspicions he received illegal gifts and favors from businessman for advancing their business interests.
Interrogators from the Lahav 433 anti-corruption unit were seen arriving at the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem Thursday afternoon to question Netanyahu. It was his first interrogation since March and his fifth session since he was named a suspect late last year.
Netanyahu is facing two separate criminal investigations, known as Case 1000 and Case 2000. He has denied wrongdoing in both cases.
Case 1000 revolves around alleged illicit gifts given to Netanyahu and his family by billionaire benefactors, most notably hundreds of thousands of shekels’ worth of cigars and champagne from the Israeli-born Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan.
Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, have denied that receiving the gifts constitutes a criminal offense, claiming the value of the items was significantly lower than reported, and that they were mere “trifles” exchanged between close friends.
Earlier this week, Israel’s Ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer was reportedly questioned by police as part of the investigation.
Dermer, considered a close associate of Netanyahu, confirmed to police that at the direction of the prime minister, he asked then-secretary of state John Kerry to help obtain a visa for Milchan, according to the Hadashot news (formerly Channel 2).
The television station also reported that the US State Department is preventing Israeli investigators from gathering testimony from former US ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro over the visa request.
Case 2000 is focused on an alleged clandestine quid-pro-quo deal made between Netanyahu and Yedioth Ahronoth publisher and owner Arnon “Noni” Mozes, in which the prime minister was said to have promised Mozes he would advance legislation to reduce the circulation of Yedioth’s main commercial rival, the freebie Israel Hayom, in exchange for friendlier coverage from Yedioth.
On Wednesday, amid legislative efforts critics say are tied to the Netanyahu investigation, lawmakers advanced a bill that would ban police from giving state prosecutors their opinion on lodging criminal charges against suspects at the conclusion of an investigation.
The contentious proposal by Likud MK David Amsalem — opposed by police, the state attorney, and the attorney general — cleared its preliminary reading in the Knesset plenum with 52 lawmakers in favor, 42 opposed, on Wednesday.
Although police don’t recommend outright whether to file indictments, they do provide prosecutors with a summary that notes whether there is sufficient evidence a crime was committed.
The bill is seen as part of a spate of recent legislative efforts by coalition politicians to make it harder for prosecutors to charge public officials, and to pressure police over the Netanyahu investigations.
Police investigators are also expected to set a date for Netanyahu to provide testimony as a witness in Case 3000, which involves suspected corruption by senior officials, among them several associates of the prime minister, in Israel’s decision to purchase German submarines.
In an apparent attempt to block police from making Netanyahu a suspect in Case 3000, and potentially also put an end to Cases 1000 and 2000, Amsalem had initially proposed a bill that would grant serving prime ministers immunity from corruption investigations.
Despite threats from Likud lawmakers to bring down the government if that bill was not advanced, the proposal has now been shelved amid coalition disagreements.
Marissa Newman and Raoul Wootliff contributed to this report.