Israel Police are investigating whether Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu received gifts or other benefits from a billionaire British-Israeli businessman as part of a corruption investigation against the prime minister, Channel 10 reported Thursday.
The report adds Chaim “Poju” Zabludowicz, the Finnish-born head of the Tamares private investment firm, to a growing list of billionaires suspected to have given Netanyahu and his wife Sara improper gifts worth tens of thousands of shekels as part of an investigation known as Case 1000.
The Netanyahus are alleged to have received champagne, cigars and jewelry from billionaire Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan, as well as meals and accommodation for their son Yair from Australian billionaire James Packer.
Zabludowicz has previously been featured in Channel 10 reporting over allegations he funded trips for the Netanyahus.
But a spokesman for Zabludowicz, who has business interests in Israel, told Channel 10 that the billionaire has not given testimony to police and is not aware of any request from police for him to do so.
Sources close to Netanyahu told Channel 10 that Thursday’s report was another attempt by reporter Raviv Drucker, who has repeatedly drawn the prime minister’s ire over reporting deemed critical of Netanyahu, to target the prime minister.
Drucker just wants to take a “new name, mix it with the words ‘gifts,’ ‘wealth and power,’ ‘rich friends’ and of course ‘Sara Netanyahu,’ and the name of the person on duty this time is Poju Zabludowicz,” the source said.
On Wednesday, the Hebrew-language daily Haaretz reported that Milchan gave Sara Netanyahu a NIS 10,000 ($2,670) piece of jewelry for her birthday last year, and only agreed to buy the present after the prime minister insisted there would not be an ethical problem.
Milchan had hesitated over the price tag for the birthday present, fearing it would be deemed inappropriate to buy such an expensive item for Sara Netanyahu, sources close to the producer told Haaretz.
The Netanyahu’s have reportedly insisted that the sums of the gifts they received were far lower than what has been reported, and that the gifts were unremarkable seeing that the Milchans are their best friends.
On Tuesday, Channel 2 reported that Netanyahu reportedly has tried to distance himself from the gifts of wine and jewelry to his wife and told investigators that he didn’t know about bottles of champagne gifted to his Sara.
Netanyahu told police that he and his wife were “independent people” and that he shouldn’t be expected to be aware of all of her actions, which included, reportedly, receiving regular deliveries of high-end champagne.
The prime minister also defended himself against claims he received from Milchan boxes of cigars over several years, also worth many thousands of shekels.
Netanyahu told police he didn’t check the cost of each cigar and certainly not the total value over the years, the Channel 2 report said. He also reportedly asserted that some cigars he bought with his own money.
In addition to Case 1000, Netanyahu is also a key suspect in an investigation known as Case 2000, in which the prime minister allegedly reached an illicit quid pro quo with the owner and publisher of the Yedioth Ahronoth daily, Arnon “Noni” Mozes, to forward legislation that would weaken the circulation of Yedioth rival Israel Hayom in exchange for muting the paper’s critical stance towards Netanyahu.
Stuart Winer contributed to this report.