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Police question Netanyahu in graft probe for the sixth time

Investigators return to the PM’s official residence in Jerusalem for another lengthy session

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on November 19, 2017. (AFP/Pool/Ronen Zvulun)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on November 19, 2017. (AFP/Pool/Ronen Zvulun)

Police questioned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for the sixth time Sunday evening as part of a graft investigation into alleged gifts the Netanyahu family received from wealthy acquaintances.

Investigators returned to the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem to question him regarding further testimonies gleaned from witnesses, including that of Hollywood movie mogul Arnon Milchan, a key benefactor of the Netanyahus in the case.

According to Channel 10, police will also confront Netanyahu with evidence from Milchan’s driver and personal assistant.

Last week Netanyahu was grilled by police for over four hours at the Prime Minister’s Residence in his first questioning in the investigation since March.

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 Israeli-born Milchan.

Last week, Hadas Klein, Milchan’s personal assistant, told police Sara Netanyahu would call her up regularly to ask for cigars and champagne, Hadashot news (formerly Channel 2) reported.

Arnon Milchan, left, and Benjamin Netanyahu on March 28, 2005. (Flash90)

“There were code words for champagne and cigars,” she was quoted as saying by Hadashot. “It went on for years. There was an understanding that Arnon had to supply the Netanyahu couple with whatever they wanted. The cigars were requested by [Benjamin] Netanyahu.”

Channel 10 news reported that Milchan’s driver told investigators he was once forced to leave his home in the middle of the Passover Seder to deliver champagne at the request of Sara Netanyahu.

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 the sums involved were far lower, and that the gifts were unremarkable since the Milchans were their best friends.

During his four-hour questioning last week, Netanyahu provided investigators photos of him and his family enjoying leisure time with the Milchans in a bid to strengthen this claim.

Police investigators arrive at the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem to question Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a pair of corruption investigations, on November 9, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

As for claims that Milchan kept Netanyahu supplied with expensive cigars on an ongoing basis for most of a decade — the lion’s share of the hundreds of thousands of shekels’ worth of allegedly illicit benefits — the Netanyahus reportedly told police he was merely a “social smoker” and that whenever his friend Milchan came to see him, he would bring just three to six cigars, worth about $10 each.

Netanyahu was interrogated under caution for four hours a week ago — his fifth questioning session in the investigation — and was reportedly confronted with Klein’s testimony, among others.

In an effort to shore up the suspicion of bribery, police were also said to have asked the prime minister about a number of “favors” he may have provided for Milchan in return.

Pressed over reports that he asked US secretary of state John Kerry three times in 2014 to arrange a long-term visa for Milchan, an Israeli citizen, to live in the US, Netanyahu has admitted to making a request, but claims it had nothing to do with the gifts he received.

In addition to the US visa, police are reportedly investigating whether Netanyahu intervened in the sale of the Channel 10 shares to benefit Milchan financially, and whether the prime minister sought to help the Hollywood producer secure a major stake in Channel 2.

Arnon Milchan and the Netanyahus pose with one of Milchan’s children in a family setting. (Hadashot news screenshot, November 16, 2017)

Milchan also allegedly asked Netanyahu to promote a free trade zone near the Jordan-Israel border. The request was said to have been made following consultation with Indian billionaire Ratan Tata, whose Tata business conglomerate may have stood to benefit from the deal. The initiative never went through.

The investigation into the gifts from Milchan has been dubbed Case 1000. Netanyahu is also a suspect in a second investigation, Case 2000, which is examining an alleged clandestine quid-pro-quo deal he made with Yedioth Ahronoth publisher and owner Arnon “Noni” Mozes, in which the prime minister was said to have promised Mozes he would hobble Yedioth’s main commercial rival, the freebie Israel Hayom, in exchange for friendlier coverage from Yedioth.

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