Israel Police will reportedly question Australian billionaire James Packer in the coming days as part of a corruption investigation into allegations Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accepted expensive gifts from wealthy businessmen.
Packer, chairman of Crown Limited, one of Australia’s largest entertainment and integrated resort groups, has emerged as a key figure in the ongoing investigation, along with Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan.
In what they have dubbed “Case 1000,” police are probing whether expensive gifts given to Netanyahu by Milchan and Packer, and then actions he took on their behalf, amount to an illegal conflict of interest. The gifts reportedly amounted to hundreds of thousands of dollars and included expensive cigars, champagne, meals and hotel rooms.
As part of the probe, police are reportedly looking into whether Netanyahu tried to help Packer gain residency in Israel and aided Milchan in a US visa request. Packer, who also bought a home next to Netanyahu in the prosperous coastal city of Caesarea, is reportedly seeking residency status for tax purposes.
Since December, when the attorney general ordered a preliminary probe be turned into a full blown criminal investigation, police have collected testimony from dozens of associates of the prime minister. In the last month alone they have questioned 11 new witnesses, Channel 2 news reported Tuesday.
Milchan has been questioned by Lahav 433 investigators twice so far in connection to Case 1000, and his initial testimony reportedly bolstered the state’s case for corruption indictment against the prime minister. Packer, who has so far avoided questioning, is set to be one of the last to testify in the case and is likely to do so this week, according to a number of Hebrew media outlets.
Netanyahu has repeatedly denied the allegations against him, insisting the gifts from Milchan and Packer were friendly gestures.
Throughout the investigation, the prime minister has insisted that the gifts were “between friends” and that he himself bought most of the cigars with cash given to him by “a rich relative.”
In part of his testimony, Netanyahu told investigators that he had “only acted for the good of Israel’s security,” the Channel 2 report said Tuesday.
The police hope that with Packer’s testimony the investigation will be concluded in the coming days.
“Even without his testimony, we have strong evidence,” a source involved in the investigation told the Ynet news site. “We’re waiting for Packer, but we cannot drag this on any longer.”
But sources in the State Prosecution reportedly said that police may not be planning on indicting Netanyahu for corruption based on receiving illicit gifts, and will instead push ahead only with the charge of creating a conflict of interest.
Last month Netanyahu suggested that police would recommend indicting him on corruption charges only because they lack the courage to admit the investigation has produced no tangible results. In a statement, an official in the Prime Minister’s Office said: “After months of police leaks saying they’ll recommend an indictment, does anyone imagine they’ll have the courage to get off their high horse and admit that there’s nothing?”
Netanyahu is also being investigated in a second graft case — known as case 2000 — alleging that he was involved in trying to set up a quid pro quo deal with Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper publisher Arnon Mozes.
Netanyahu and Mozes held several face-to-face conversations in 2014 on an alleged deal under which Yedioth would scale back its critical coverage of the prime minister in return for Netanyahu ensuring legislation that would reduce the impact of Yedioth’s competitor, Sheldon Adelson’s pro-Netanyahu Israel Hayom free daily.
On Monday, Adelson was questioned by police for a second time as part of that investigation. His wife Miriam was also questioned, for the first time. Both were questioned as witnesses and are not suspected of any wrongdoing, police made clear.