Police inching towards Netanyahu indictment
Police are increasingly moving toward recommending an indictment against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on charges of breach of trust over expensive gifts he allegedly received from businessmen, Israeli television reported last Sunday, Jan. 22.
According to the reports, by both Channel 2 and Channel 10, investigators are considering an indictment in one of two corruption probes into the prime minister. Netanyahu has denied any wrongdoing.
The relationship between Netanyahu, his wife Sara and billionaire Israeli film producer Arnon Milchan forms the core of a police investigation – known as “Case 1000” – into whether the Netanyahus received improper gifts worth hundreds of thousands of shekels.
A second investigation, known as “Case 2000,” is looking into suspicions Netanyahu negotiated with Israel’s top-selling newspaper publisher to push legislation to hamper a competitor, in return for more favourable coverage.
Quoting a senior state legal source, Channel 2 reported of the case involving Milchan that “what’s been exposed so far is only some of the material. There’s a lot more that the police have regarding gifts – how often they were made and how valuable they were.”
Earlier on Jan. 22, Israel Police Chief Roni Alsheikh said the probes were close to completion.
“We already know what conclusions we have reached in the investigation,” Alsheikh told reporters, without elaborating. “I believe we will bring the material to the prosecutor for a decision in the next few weeks,” he said.
Sources close to Milchan also responded to accusations by a lawmaker from Netanyahu’s Likud party who had accused the billionaire of leaking details of the gifts in order to bring down the prime minister.
“It is embarrassing and worrying to see a smear campaign that was opened this morning by emissaries acting on behalf of interested parties against a man who dedicated his life to fortify the security and prosperity of Israel, and used his extensive connections to strengthen discreet diplomatic ties with countries and leaders around the world,” unnamed Milchan associates told Israeli media on Sunday.
In response, Netanyahu’s bureau denied attempts to besmirch Milchan. “There was no such thing. We don’t intend to respond to all the false accusations,” an official was quoted by Hebrew media as saying.
The official added that the Netanyahu and Milchan families enjoy “a deep friendship” and that the Netanyahus emphatically dissociated themselves from comments made against Milchan recently.
Until now, Milchan, a powerful Hollywood producer and former Israeli spy, has been portrayed as a close friend and benefactor of Netanyahu and his wife. But MK David Amsalem from Netanyahu’s Likud party charged early Jan. 22 that the Hollywood mogul himself is the one behind the ongoing police investigation into the Netanyahus.
Milchan reportedly told Israeli police under questioning that the Netanyahus demanded the champagne and cigars that he has allegedly been supplying them, and that they were not, as they have claimed, merely gifts he gave out of generosity and friendship.
Amsalem charged that the ongoing leaks of material from the investigation were designed to turn the public against Netanyahu.
“There is a system,” he said. “To bring down the prime minister you need to create the public atmosphere. Every week something else comes out.”
Asked what Milchan was trying to do, Amsalem replied: “To bring down the prime minister.”
Milchan’s testimony may be a turning point in the case. While leaked reports of the police investigation have indicated that Milchan spent some NIS 400,000-600,000 ($140,000-$210,000) on champagne and cigars for the Netanyahus over the best part of a decade, the prime minister and his wife have reportedly told police that the sums involved were far lower, and that the gifts were unremarkable since the Milchans are their best friends.
Chief of Police Roni Alsheikh speaks with the media during a press conference at police headquarters in Jerusalem on Jan. 22.