Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s son Yair gave testimony to police Tuesday evening as part of an investigation into suspicions against his father. The interview lasted some four hours.
His testimony focused on “Case 1000,” which centers on allegations the Netanyahu family received hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of illicit cigars, champagne and other gifts, including having hotel rooms for Yair paid for by billionaire benefactors, among them Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan and Australian businessman James Packer.
Yair Netanyahu, 25, arrived at the police’s Lahav 433 serious crime unit headquarters in Lod, outside Tel Aviv, where he was reported by Channel 2 to have told investigators that Packer is his friend, and that any gifts he received were on the basis of their friendship.
The younger Netanyahu has also been linked to “Case 2000,” which explores suspicions the prime minister promised to advance legislation to hobble the Israel Hayom daily in exchange for more favorable coverage from its main competitor, the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper.
Negotiations between Netanyahu and Yedioth publisher Arnon “Noni” Mozes were said to have begun over the prime minister’s efforts to prevent the publication of a story about Yair.
Mozes was questioned Tuesday for a third day in a row and a fourth time in total. Amos Regev, editor of the free Hebrew daily Israel Hayom, also met with police to provide testimony in the newspaper manipulation case.
While leaked reports of the police investigation into cigars and fine wines supplied to Benjamin and Sara Netanyahu have indicated that Milchan spent some NIS 400,000-600,000 ($100,000-150,000) on such luxuries for them, 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.
Channel 2 news reported last week that Netanyahu asked US Secretary of State John Kerry three times in 2014 to intervene on behalf of Milchan and arrange a long-term visa for Milchan to live in the United States. The visa was indeed arranged.
Channel 10 news reported last week that Packer, the Australian billionaire, was also paying for meals for the Netanyahus at their private residence in Caesarea, as well as for cigars and champagne. Packer and Milchan are friends and have mutual business interests.
Late last year, Channel 10’s Raviv Drucker reported that Packer had lavished 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 fiancee, Mariah Carey.
The report also said that a lawyer for Packer, Yaakov Weinroth, who is close to the elder Netanyahu and has represented him in the current corruption probe, had unsuccessfully leaned on Interior Minister Aryeh Deri to grant the businessman permanent residency, a rare status for non-Jews in Israel. Packer, who also owns a home next to Netanyahu in the prosperous coastal community of Caesarea, is reportedly seeking residency status for tax purposes.
Leaks ‘at the heart’ of the investigation
Israel Hayom editor Regev, who arrived at the Lahav 433 anti-corruption unit Tuesday morning, was reportedly asked by police to provide testimony concerning the nature of the newspaper’s relationship with the prime minister and whether the paper was aware of or involved in Netanyahu’s suspected bartering with Mozes.
While Netanyahu has blasted almost-daily leaks from that investigation as “meticulously selected” and taken out of context, sources close to him as well as to Mozes, the Yedioth publisher, reportedly confirmed that those leaks were in fact “at the heart” of the probe.
The sources were quoted Tuesday evening by Channel 2 news, which has been publishing the majority of the leaks, presented as transcripts from audio recordings of negotiations between Netanyahu and Mozes.
In the transcripts, Netanyahu seems to promise to advance legislation designed to hobble billionaire Sheldon Adelson’s free Israel Hayom daily in exchange for Yedioth giving the prime minster more favorable coverage. The TV report quoted the sources as saying that, while publicly damning, the evidence amassed so far in that case does not justify an indictment.
Given out for free, Israel Hayom has become a thorn in the side of Yedioth, eating into the tabloid’s circulation and revenues.
Excerpts of the transcripts leaked to Channel 2 on Monday featured Mozes and the prime minister discussing the specifics of how to curb the circulation of Adelson’s daily.
Mozes says they need to “think about the details” of proposed legislation that would restrict the distribution of free newspapers, while Netanyahu says that he’ll “have to tell Sheldon.”
Leaks have also indicated that Netanyahu tried to help Mozes find an investor for the ailing paper.
Israel Police chief Roni Alsheich said Tuesday morning that the “investigation [of the prime minister] will not be very long,” while adding that any decision to proceed further with the case is for the attorney general to make. Sources close to the investigation told Channel 2 news that they expected a decision in the coming weeks as to whether Netanyahu will be indicted.