The police have asked Benjamin Netanyahu’s aides to coordinate a time for him to be questioned over suspicions of corruption, TV reports said Friday, a day after reports emerged that Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit has approved a full criminal investigation into the prime minister. The questioning is expected to take place next week, and not to be particularly lengthy, Channel 10 said.
The prime minister is to be questioned, under caution, on suspicion of accepting gifts of considerable value from an overseas businessman with business interests in Israel, Channel 2 reported, and from an Israeli businessman. Some of these valuable gifts were also given to members of his family, the report said, and it is not believed the gifts were reported to the relevant authorities. Members of his family will be asked to testify, the TV report said. Channel 10 said Yair Netanyahu, his son, would be among those asked to give evidence.
“You will be disappointed this time, again,” the prime minister’s office said in response to the Channel 2 report, reiterating that Netanyahu has done nothing wrong.
Channel 10 said that the Prime Minster’s Office is trying to find a date that fits with Netanyahu’s schedule. A Channel 2 report said the request was made to Netanyahu four days ago.
Channel 2 said Mandelblit and Netanyahu met on December 12 over the issue, and the attorney general told the prime minister he had authorized a police probe of suspicions against him, and that Netanyahu asked him to postpone plans to question him then for 48 hours because he was heading out on an official visit to Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan. While he was away, there was a “turning point” in the investigation, and as a consequence plans to question Netanyahu were put off until now.
The Channel 2 report said Mandelblit has told Netanyahu absolutely nothing about the suspicions against him. Israel’s Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich said Thursday that the police were experienced, in general, in investigating allegations of corruption, and could be relied upon “to do whatever we are required to do” in this particular case.
According to the Channel 10 report, the central suspicions against Netanyahu are breach of trust and unlawfully accepting gifts. As yet, the television said, there are no suspicions of bribery.
Channel 10 later reported that one of the witnesses in the investigation is considered to be very close to Netanyahu, and has provided most of the incriminating material against the prime minister. However, the report said, the investigation has yet to yield someone willing to turn state’s witness, although those efforts are continuing.
A source familiar with the police investigation said it is expected to take less time than the preceding examination, as investigators have already carried out much of the work and collected a great deal of material, Channel 10 reported. Yair Netanyahu, the prime minister’s son, is expected to give testimony.
The Ynet news website, meanwhile, reported Friday that Mandelblit would only announce a formal criminal investigation once it was actually underway, in order to avoid any interference in the process and so that Netanyahu would not be able to prepare his version of events in advance.
According to Ynet, the same announcement would notify the public that Mandelblit decided to close some aspects of the preliminary probe into the affairs of the prime minister.
Channel 2 said Thursday night that the investigation would focus on reports that the prime minister illegally received large funds from a businessman in Israel and another overseas.
In his first reaction to the Channel 2 report, Netanyahu on Friday rejected the new corruption allegations as “baseless.”
“All these scandals have turned out to be baseless and so will the allegations being published in the media now,” the prime minister said in a statement.
“We keep repeating: This will come to nothing, because there is nothing,” said Netanyahu, who has been implicated in a slew of scandals in recent months but has not been charged and has denied any wrongdoing.
Channel 2 said Thursday that three top police investigators are being designated to lead the expected criminal investigation of the prime minister, including one whose expertise is in white-collar crime. The main case against Netanyahu has been dubbed “Case 1,000” by police, while a second, more minor case is known as “Case 2,000.”
Netanyahu is the prime suspect, and there are “marginal” suspicions against members of his family, the TV report said. A preliminary probe has been running for months, the report said, with some work carried out abroad. Some 50 people have already testified or been questioned over the various allegations, the TV report said.
Questioning Netanyahu will “require several sessions,” it noted.
In June, Alsheich gave his go-ahead to the hush-hush probe by the Lahav 433 anti-corruption unit, but demanded full cooperation on secrecy and that no details be leaked to the media, reports earlier this week claimed.
Mandelblit also reportedly instructed employees in the state prosecutor’s office to look into allegations that Netanyahu accepted 1 million euros (about $1.1 million) from convicted French fraudster Arnaud Mimran in 2009.
Earlier this month, in an apparently unrelated case, there were calls for the prime minister to be investigated for his role in a Defense Ministry deal to purchase submarines from a German company partly owned by the Iranian government.