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Police open probe against ex-Mossad chief Yossi Cohen over tycoon’s cash gift

Australian billionaire James Packer gave $20,000 to spymaster at Cohen’s daughter’s wedding; other allegations of impropriety include telling state secrets to flight attendant

Former Mossad chief Yossi Cohen in an interview with Channel 12 broadcast on June 10, 2021 (Screencapture)
Former Mossad chief Yossi Cohen in an interview with Channel 12 broadcast on June 10, 2021 (Screencapture)

Police have begun probing several claims against Yossi Cohen, the former head of the Mossad spy agency, including that he accepted an illicit gift worth $20,000, Hebrew media reported Sunday.

Depending on the outcome of the probe, a decision will be made on whether to open a full criminal investigation, Channel 13 news and the Haaretz daily reported.

Cohen is not expected to be called in for questioning at this stage.

The development came after Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit last week instructed State Attorney Amit Aisman to conduct a thorough investigation of the allegations against Cohen, according to Hebrew media reports. Some of the allegations cannot be detailed due to privacy laws, the Kan public broadcaster reported at the time.

Cohen admits receiving the cash gift from billionaire Australian businessman James Packer for his daughter’s wedding, as first reported by Haaretz in May.

In a TV interview in June, shortly after retiring as the head of the spy agency, Cohen spoke for the first time about the incident. He claimed to have accepted the funds after consulting Mossad’s legal adviser, and said he is committed to returning the gift.

James Packer at a news conference of the Studio City project in Macau, October 27, 2015. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)

Last month, Channel 13 reported that Cohen was suspected of sharing classified information with a flight attendant with whom he was in close personal contact for the past two years. The report at the time said the incident was being reviewed by the attorney general’s office.

There are also allegations that Cohen became involved in a dispute between businessmen Ram Ungar and Michael Levi over Israeli distribution rights for vehicles by South Korean vehicle manufacturer Kia. Ungar gave NIS 1.1 million ($341,654) in donations to a synagogue opposite Cohen’s home, The Marker business news website has reported.

However, the incident with the flight attendant and the synagogue donation are are unlikely to lead to a full police probe, Channel 13 reported.

Cohen, 59, was recruited to the Mossad at age 22 while studying in London, rising through its ranks to become its chief after a short stint as National Security Council chief.

Cohen, known as “the model” inside the agency, had an unusually public persona for an Israeli spy chief even as he oversaw secret operations against Iran’s nuclear program and helped guide Israel’s clandestine ties with Arab nations.

Cohen, who was appointed by former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has said he does not rule out seeking to become prime minister one day, though he is not yet contemplating such an ambition.

Cohen had also denied any unlawful political relationship between himself and Netanyahu, when he was serving as the Mossad chief and the latter was prime minister.

He stepped down as head of the Mossad on June 1 after more than five years on the job. He was replaced by David Barnea.

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