PM said to have received 1 million shekels in illicit gifts

Police recommend charging Netanyahu for taking bribes from mogul, publisher

Milchan and Mozes should be indicted too, cops say; new bombshell reports say key witness against prime minister is political rival Yair Lapid

Raoul Wootliff is a former Times of Israel political correspondent and Daily Briefing podcast producer.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Knesset on February 13, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Knesset on February 13, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In a dramatic and far-reaching announcement Tuesday night, police said they are recommending Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu be indicted for a series of serious corruption charges including bribery, fraud, and breach of trust, and that they believe they have collected enough evidence to bring the cases to trial.

As the recommendations and detailed allegations were published, new bombshell reports said the ostensible key witness against the prime minister in one of the cases is his political rival, former finance minister Yair Lapid.

The recommendations include indictments for bribery in both Case 1000 and Case 2000, as they have been dubbed. A decision to press formal charges against the veteran premier now rests with the attorney general’s office, which is expected to take weeks or months to decide how to proceed.

According to police, Netanyahu made a number of quid pro quo deals to receive favors from businessmen in return for passing laws that would benefit them financially.

Police said that in Case 1000, they have concluded “that there is sufficient evidence against the prime minister on suspicions of the offense of accepting bribes, fraud and breach of trust regarding his connection with businessman Arnon Milchan and fraud and breach of trust in connection with the Australian businessman James Packer.”

Arnon Milchan (center) with Shimon Peres (left) and Benjamin Netanyahu, March 28, 2005. (Flash90/File)

In Case 2000, they are recommending prosecuting Netanyahu for bribery, fraud and breach of trust.

In Case 1000, Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, are suspected of receiving illicit gifts from billionaire benefactors, amounting to some NIS 1 million ($282,000) worth of cigars and champagne from the Israeli-born Hollywood producer Milchan and Australian resort owner Packer.

The police estimated the gifts from Milchan amounted to NIS 750,000 ($212,000), with another NIS 250,000 ($70,000) from Packer.

Case 2000 involves a suspected illicit quid-pro-quo deal between Netanyahu and Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper publisher Arnon Mozes that would have seen the prime minister weaken a rival daily, the Sheldon Adelson-backed Israel Hayom, in return for more favorable coverage from Yedioth.

In addition to charging Netanyahu, police also recommend indicting Milchan and Mozes, saying that “there is sufficient evidence that suspicions of bribery were committed” by all three.

Publisher and owner of Yedioth Aharonoth newspaper Arnon “Noni” Mozes arrives for questioning at the Lahav 433 investigation unit in Lod on January 17, 2017. (Roy Alima/Flash90)

According to reports on Tuesday evening, Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid was a central witness against Netanyahu, providing evidence that the prime minister pushed for amendments to a law that would give his benefactors millions of dollars in tax breaks.

The recommendations were presented to the State Prosecution earlier Monday for consideration by Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, who alone has the power to bring charges against a sitting prime minister.

The statement from the police is expected to be followed in the next few days by a more detailed explanation from the State Prosecution, which will lay out each proposed charge against the prime minister.

Responding to the recommendations, Netanyahu said the months-long investigation into his alleged corruption amounts to “slander” against him and his family.

He said some 15 investigations have been opened against him, in order to “topple him from power.”

“They have brutally attacked my wife and children to hurt me,” he said, in live remarks delivered outside his home. “This time things will end without anything. these recommendations have no place in a democratic state.”

The prime minister further said he actively undercut Mozes in dissolving his government in 2013 to avoid the passage of the legislation that would hobble Israel Hayom.

The recommendations conclude two year-long investigations into alleged corruption by Netanyahu that have seen numerous leaks to media outlets. Netanyahu has been questioned in the cases seven times.

Then Finance Minister Yair Lapid (L) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a 2013 press conference (photo credit: Flash90)

Police said that in return for the gifts, Netanyahu pushed a number of projects and even legislation that benefited Milchan and Packer directly.

The most significant of those, police said was Netanyahu’s effort to extend a 10-year tax exemption on income earned abroad to new immigrants as well as returning residents who have lived abroad for at least 10 years and other eligible new residents.

Milchan would likely have saved further millions of dollars from the extension of the law had it not been thwarted by the Treasury.

In addition, Milchan and Netanyahu promoted a free trade zone near the Jordan-Israel border that personally benefited Milchan, a trade holder, and pushed for a deal to merge Israeli media outlets, one partly owned by Milchan, according to police.

Netanyahu also allegedly worked to help Milchan regain his US visa.

The police also concluded that in the second case, Netanyahu and Mozes had cut a mutually beneficial deal.

From 2009 “Netanyahu and Arnon Mozes held conversations and personal meetings during which they discussed helping each other as a quid-pro-quo to advance their respective interests,” said police.

Furthermore, the investigation revealed “that the sides took actual active steps in advancing each others interests in continuation of the understandings reached between them, or at least presented to each other as if they had acted that way.”

Police said that Netanyahu offered his support for a bill to close Israel Hayom, to help shrink the newspaper’s circulation numbers and to nix the free daily’s weekend edition. The law did not pass, as the government folded and went to elections in 2015.

In addition “the prime minister acted as an agent for the Yedioth Ahronoth publisher with other business people, in the purchase of Yedioth Ahronoth, while he was communications minister,” police said.

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