Police are increasingly moving toward recommending an indictment against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on charges of breach of trust over expensive gifts he allegedly received from businessmen, Israeli television reported Sunday.
According to the reports, by both Channel 2 and Channel 10, investigators are considering an indictment in one of two corruption probes into the prime minister. Netanyahu has denied any wrongdoing.
The relationship between Netanyahu, his wife, and billionaire Israeli film producer Arnon Milchan forms the core of a police investigation — known as “Case 1000” — into whether the Netanyahus received improper gifts worth hundreds of thousands of shekels.
A second investigation, known as “Case 2000,” is looking into suspicions Netanyahu negotiated with Israel’s top-selling newspaper publisher to push legislation to hamper a competitor, in return for more favorable coverage.
Quoting a senior state legal source, Channel 2 reported of the case involving Milchan that “what’s been exposed so far is only some of the material. There’s a lot more that the police have regarding gifts — how often they were made and how valuable they were.”
Earlier on Sunday, Israel Police chief Roni Alsheich said the probes were close to completion.
“We already know what conclusions we have reached in the investigation,” Alscheich told reporters, without elaborating. “I believe we will bring the material to the prosecutor for a decision in the next few weeks,” he said.
Sources close to Milchan on Sunday also responded to accusations by a lawmaker from Netanyahu’s Likud party who had accused the billionaire of leaking details of the gifts in order to bring down the prime minister.
“It is embarrassing and worrying to see a smear campaign that was opened this morning by emissaries acting on behalf of interested parties against a man who dedicated his life to fortify the security and prosperity of Israel, and used his extensive connections to strengthen discreet diplomatic ties with countries and leaders around the world,” unnamed Milchan associates told Israeli media.
“It is astounding to see how the emissaries act under instructions specifically against the person who, in recent years, with an open heart, and on an unprecedented scale, became the address for assistance to IDF fighters, to the security branches, and the Jewish and Zionist organizations around the world.”
“Mr. Milchan will act in every way to protect his name and the good name of his family and his faithful workers against those who wish him, his family, and his workers, unnecessary pain and suffering.”
In response, Netanyahu’s bureau denied attempts to besmirch Milchan. “There was no such thing. We don’t intend to respond to all the false accusations,” an official was quoted by Hebrew media as saying.
The official added that the Netanyahu and Milchan families enjoy “a deep friendship” and that the Netanyahus emphatically dissociated themselves from comments made against Milchan recently.
Until now, Milchan, a powerful Hollywood producer and former Israeli spy, has been portrayed as a close friend and benefactor of Netanyahu and his wife, Sara. But MK David Amsalem from Netanyahu’s Likud party charged early Sunday that the Hollywood mogul himself is the one behind behind the ongoing police investigation into the Netanyahus.
“Ask yourself why Milchan is even telling these stories,” Amsalem told Army Radio. “Milchan came to the police. Something is going on here.”
Milchan reportedly told Israeli police under questioning that the Netanyahus demanded the champagne and cigars that he has allegedly been supplying them, and that they were not, as they have claimed, merely gifts he gave out of generosity and friendship.
Amsalem charged that the ongoing leaks of material from the investigation were designed to turn the public against Netanyahu.
“There is a system,” he said. “To bring down the prime minister you need to create the public atmosphere. Every week something else comes out.”
Asked what Milchan was trying to do, Amsalem replied: “To bring down the prime minister.”
“First, we have to say something simple: If I buy a gift for someone, then I buy him a gift. No one is forcing him, a 75-year old billionaire, to do anything. Did Netanyahu come to him with a gun to his head? No one forced him,” Amsalem said, adding that it was not even clear that any of the reported events had actually transpired.
“Milchan could be lying,” he said.
According to a Friday report from Haaretz, Milchan’s testimony may be a turning point in the case.
While leaked reports of the police investigation have indicated that Milchan spent some NIS 400,000-600,000 ($100,000-150,000) on champagne and cigars for the Netanyahus over the best part of a decade, the prime minister and his wife have reportedly told police that the sums involved were far lower, and that the gifts were unremarkable since the Milchans are their best friends.
Netanyahu asked US Secretary of State John Kerry three times in 2014 to arrange a long-term visa to allow Milchan, an Israeli citizen, to live in the United States. The visa was granted.
Netanyahu has been questioned under caution by police over the case as well as over a second possible breach of trust affair, “Case 2000,” dealing with an alleged quid pro quo deal he hatched with Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper publisher Arnon Mozes that would see Mozes’s newspaper tamp down its negative coverage of the premier.
In exchange, Netanyahu would work to curtail the circulation of the free daily Israel Hayom, a Yedioth competitor.
According to a Channel 2 news report Sunday night, investigators are looking at possible fraud and breach of trust charges in the case, but it may hinge on the legal interpretations of the material involved.