Police said to recommend Netanyahu be indicted for bribery, breach of trust

Police said to recommend Netanyahu be indicted for bribery, breach of trust

Following year-long corruption probes, investigators believe they have collected enough evidence to take PM to trial on a series of serious corruption charges

Raoul Wootliff is the The Times of Israel's political correspondent.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on February 11, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / POOL / RONEN ZVULUN)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on February 11, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / POOL / RONEN ZVULUN)

Police officials informed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday evening they are recommending he be indicted for bribery and breach of trust in both of the corruption investigations against him.

The prime minister’s lawyers were informed of the impending police announcement to this effect.

Police were set to formally announce the recommendations at 8:45 p.m.

Netanyahu, who has denied any wrongdoing, informed news stations that he would give a live, 10-minute-long statement to press at 8:47 p.m.

In the so-called Case 1000, Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, are suspected of receiving illicit gifts from billionaire benefactors, reportedly including hundreds of thousands of shekels’ worth of cigars and champagne from the Israeli-born Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan.

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.

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

Police have also recommended Milchan and Moses stand trial for bribery, according to Hebrew media reports.

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

Minutes before the police announcement, the force released a statement saying that there was “no truth” to reports that Mandelblit tried to prevent them from publishing recommendations.

“There is close cooperation between the police commissioner, the head of the investigations unit, the State Prosecution, and the attorney general, as always,” a police spokesperson said.

The statement from the police was 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.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit speaks during a farewell ceremony for outgoing Supreme Court chief justice Miriam Naor in Jerusalem, on November 6, 2017. (Flash90)

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.

The core of the Case 1000 has focused on whether Milchan’s gifts were given merely out of generosity and friendship, as the Netanyahus have claimed, or whether prime minister used his position to provide reciprocal favors to the Hollywood mogul.

Leaked reports of the investigation indicated that Milchan spent some NIS 400,000-600,000 ($100,000-150,000) on champagne and cigars for the Netanyahus over the better part of a decade.

Milchan reportedly told Israeli police under questioning that the Netanyahus demanded the champagne and cigars that he has allegedly been supplying them.

The Netanyahus reportedly used the code words “pinks” and “leaves” to demand more champagne and cigars, and these items were then purchased through people working for Milchan and delivered to the prime minister and his wife by Milchan’s chauffeurs.

Sara Netanyahu also reportedly had Milchan buy her expensive jewelry and then complained when she did not receive the full set that she had requested.

Netanyahu is said to have told police that gifts from the Milchans were presents from their “best friends.” The families meet up “all the time,” he reportedly claimed, even providing photos of their years-long relationship to prove it.

One of the possible instances of a quid pro quo favor given to Milchan in return for the gifts is Netanyahu’s help in securing the Hollywood producer with a US visa. Netanyahu has admitted to asking US Secretary of State John Kerry to intervene to restore a 10-year US visa for Milchan but has claimed it had nothing to do with the gifts, and that he has made similar gestures for others.

Australian billionaire James Packer, chairman of Crown Limited, one of Australia’s largest entertainment and integrated resort groups, has also been a central figure in the case, and is also believed to have sent lavish gifts of his own to the Netanyahus over the years.

Milchan reportedly told police he had asked Packer, who is a mutual friend of his and of the Netanyahus, to help shoulder the cost of the gifts and that Packer paid a quarter of the value.

Packer is also said to have lavished Netanyahu’s college-aged son, Yair, with gifts that included extended stays at luxury hotels in Tel Aviv, New York, and Aspen, Colorado, the use of his private jet, and dozens of tickets for concerts by Packer’s former fiancée, Mariah Carey.

Similar to the allegations surrounding Milchan, police reportedly investigated whether Netanyahu tried to help Packer gain residency in Israel. Packer bought a home next to Netanyahu in the upscale coastal city of Caesarea and reportedly sought residency status for tax purposes.

Several other billionaires and multimillionaires have been linked to the case, and some interviewed by police, including British-Israeli businessman Chaim “Poju” Zabludowicz, US businessman Spencer Partrige, British-American Leonard Blavatnik, Canadian-Israeli Nathan Jacobson, and head of Indian mega-conglomerate Ratan Tata.

In Case 2000, under the alleged agreement between Mozes and Netanyahu — which was not implemented — the prime minister said he would advance legislation to curb the circulation of Israel Hayom if Mozes instructed his reporters and op-ed writers to change their often negative stance towards him.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) and Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Noni Mozes. (composite image: Flash90)

Yedioth, once the country’s largest tabloid, is often seen as critical of Netanyahu.

In August, Israeli police explicitly said for the first time that a number of corruption investigations involving Netanyahu deal with “bribery, fraud, and breach of trust.”

Day’s later, Ari Harow, a former chief of staff and aide to Netanyahu, signed a deal to turn state’s witness in the investigations.

Harow has been under investigation since mid-2015 on suspicion of using his ties to Netanyahu to advance his private business interests. Police have recommended he be indicted for bribery and breach of trust in the case, but the attorney general has yet to file formal charges.

It was the investigations into Harow that sparked Case 2000, after investigators uncovered recordings on Harow’s computer of meetings between Netanyahu and Mozes in late 2014 and early 2015.

Netanyahu denies all the allegations against him.

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