Police called in World Jewish Congress President Ron Lauder for questioning as part of an investigation into Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after the American billionaire attended the funeral of former president Shimon Peres on Friday.
Lauder was stopped by police investigators after flying in for the Peres funeral from Ukraine, where he took part in a memorial ceremony marking the 75th anniversary of the Babi Yar massacre, Channel 2 reported Tuesday night. He reportedly told police it was unreasonable that they stop him for questioning without warning when he had come to the country to pay his respects to his friend Peres.
The WJC president and police agreed that either Lauder would return to Israel to give testimony or investigators would fly to New York to question him. Lauder reportedly said he would comply with the investigation and provide police whatever information they seek.
Channel 2’s reporter noted that a move such as this indicates that there are legitimate grounds for the investigation into the prime minister. Netanyahu has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing as a series of probes into his financial dealings have made headlines and then receded.
It was not clear what suspicions into the prime minister Lauder was testifying on, but the news report cited an interview from 2011 in which Sara Netanyahu, the prime minister’s spouse, said amid a previous investigation into Netanyahu that “Lauder was our friend, he no longer is. He flew us and hosted us more than everyone else in the case.” Hebrew media reports said Tuesday night that it was unlikely that this probe against Netanyahu would not lead to a full-fledged criminal investigation.
During recent months, police have been investigating several cases relating to Netanyahu and his associates. Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit had ordered police to stop work into one of the cases, according to reports last month.
According to the Haaretz newspaper, that particular case involves US-born Ari Harow, who headed American Friends of Likud from 2003 to 2006 and served as Netanyahu’s bureau chief in 2008-2010, and again in 2014.
Differences of opinion have arisen between Mandelblit, who believes the probe is leading nowhere, and police investigators, who wish to question additional figures under caution, Haaretz said. One of the people police want to talk to is the Netanyahu family’s lawyer, David Shimron.
A statement issued on Netanyahu’s behalf said: “All the activities of the prime minister and his wife during the period in question, and at all times, were carried out within the law and according to the accepted rules. Attempts by elements in the media to put unacceptable pressure on law enforcement figures so they will take action against Netanyahu will not work this time either, for the simple reason that there isn’t, and wasn’t, anything.”
In December 2015, Harow was questioned under caution on suspicion of fraud and breach of trust, and was held under house arrest for five days.
In July, he was detained for questioning at Ben Gurion Airport and grilled for 14 hours in connection with the suspected financial violations involving Netanyahu.