US barred Israel from questioning officials in Netanyahu graft probe – report
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US barred Israel from questioning officials in Netanyahu graft probe – report

Justice Ministry will not appeal decision to block investigators from speaking with John Kerry and Dan Shapiro, Haaretz says

Then-US Secretary of State John Kerry (L) greets Then-US Ambassador to Israel Daniel Shapiro before boarding a plane while leaving Ben Gurion Airport after a meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Tuesday, April 1, 2014. (Jacquelyn Martin/AFP)
Then-US Secretary of State John Kerry (L) greets Then-US Ambassador to Israel Daniel Shapiro before boarding a plane while leaving Ben Gurion Airport after a meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Tuesday, April 1, 2014. (Jacquelyn Martin/AFP)

The United States government rejected a request from the Justice Ministry to question former secretary of state John Kerry and former US ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro in a corruption case involving Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, an Israeli newspaper reported Wednesday.

The investigation, known as Case 1000, involves suspicions Netanyahu advanced the interests of a number of billionaire benefactors in exchange for some NIS 1 million ($266,800) worth of gifts and favors, including from Israeli-born Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan.

Police have said the allegedly illicit ties constituted bribery, and involved Netanyahu lobbying of Kerry and Shapiro to restore Milchan’s 10-year visa to the US after his application was turned down.

According to the Haaretz daily, the Trump administration has refused Israeli  investigators’ request to gather testimony from Kerry and Shapiro regarding Netanyahu’s intercession on behalf of Milchan.

Arnon Milchan (left) and Benjamin Netanyahu at a press conference in the Knesset on March 28, 2005. (Flash90)

The report did not say why the US rejected the request.

An Israeli legal official said the Justice Ministry would not appeal to the US to reverse its decision.

“There is no such possibility. It is behind us,” the unnamed official told Haaretz.

Netanyahu spoke with Kerry at least three times regarding Milchan’s visa request, according to to the daily, including in 2013 when his special envoy Yitzhak Molcho contacted the State Department to say the prime minister needed to speak urgently with the secretary of state.

When the two spoke hours later, Kerry reportedly assumed the conversation would focus on US efforts to broker Israeli-Palestinian peace.

“This is ridiculous,” Haaretz quoted Netanyahu as telling Kerry. “Milchan contributed a lot to the American economy. Give him a visa.”

Then US secretary of state John Kerry talks to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (on the phone) from his hotel room in Cairo, Egypt, on July 25, 2014. (AFP/Pool)

When questioned by police, Netanyahu confirmed that he had helped Milchan, but claimed that he did so only because of the billionaire’s contributions to Israel’s security, the report said.

In addition to Case 1000, police have recommended Netanyahu be indicted for bribery in two other corruption investigations, known as cases 2000 and 4000.

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

In Case 4000, Netanyahu is suspected of having advanced regulatory decisions as communications minister and prime minister from 2015 to 2017 that benefited Shaul Elovitch, the controlling shareholder in Bezeq, the country’s largest telecommunications firm, in exchange for positive coverage from Elovitch’s Walla news site.

Netanyahu, who has been in office since 2009, has denied wrongdoing and portrays the cases as part of a conspiracy against him encompassing the left, the media, and law enforcement officials.

He vowed Monday that he would not resign even if Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit were to announce he intends to indict him.

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