The police have been waiting for five days for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to coordinate a time for him to be questioned over corruption allegations, but expect to send investigators to question him under caution in the next few days, TV reports said Saturday night. Netanyahu denies any wrongdoing.
Elaborating on the suspicions against him, Channel 10 said they involved his acceptance of a “string of valuable gifts” from at least two businessmen during his period in office as prime minister. Previous reports have said one of the businessmen is based abroad, but has interests in Israel, and the second is Israeli.
Police have collected a great deal of “well-founded” material relating to the suspicions, the TV report said, including from witnesses very close to the prime minister. Among the 50 people who have already testified is World Jewish Congress President Ron Lauder, Channel 2 reported. Lauder was asked to give evidence when he came to Israel three months ago for the funeral of Shimon Peres, and gave his testimony on a subsequent occasion, the report said.
Meni Yitzhaki, the Israel Police investigations chief, asked Netanyahu’s office on Monday to coordinate a date for the prime minister to be questioned, but no date had been fixed as of Saturday night.
“Despite the celebrations in the TV studios,” the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement at the weekend, nothing would come of the investigations, “because there is nothing to them… You will be disappointed this time, again.”
Reports emerged earlier this week that Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit had approved a full criminal investigation into the prime minister.
Some of the alleged valuable gifts were also given to members of Netanyahu’s family, TV reports said earlier this week, and it is not believed the gifts were reported to the relevant authorities. Channel 10 said on Friday that Yair Netanyahu, the prime minister’s son, would be among those asked to give evidence.
Mandelblit and Netanyahu reportedly met on December 12 over the issue, and the attorney general told the prime minister he had authorized a police probe of suspicions against him. Netanyahu asked him to postpone plans to question him at that time for 48 hours because he was heading out on an official visit to Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan. While he was away, there was a “turning point” in the investigation, the TV reports said, and as a consequence plans to question Netanyahu were put off until now.
A Channel 2 report on Friday said Mandelblit has told Netanyahu absolutely nothing about the suspicions against him. Israel’s Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich said Thursday that the police were experienced, in general, in investigating allegations of corruption, and could be relied upon “to do whatever we are required to do” in this particular case.
According to the Channel 10 report, the central suspicions against Netanyahu are breach of trust and unlawfully accepting gifts. As yet, the television report said, there were no suspicions of bribery.
Channel 10 later reported that one of the witnesses in the investigation is considered to be very close to Netanyahu, and has provided most of the incriminating material against the prime minister. However, the report said, the investigation has yet to yield someone willing to turn state’s witness, although those efforts are continuing.
A source familiar with the police investigation said it is expected to take less time than the preceding examination, which has been running for months, as investigators have already carried out much of the work and collected a great deal of material, Channel 10 reported.
The Ynet news website, meanwhile, reported Friday that Mandelblit would only announce a formal criminal investigation once it was actually underway, in order to avoid any interference in the process and so that Netanyahu would not be able to prepare his version of events in advance.
According to Ynet, the same announcement would notify the public that Mandelblit decided to close some aspects of the preliminary probe into the affairs of the prime minister.
Netanyahu on Friday rejected the new corruption allegations as “baseless.”
“All these scandals have turned out to be baseless and so will the allegations being published in the media now,” the prime minister said in a statement.
“We keep repeating: This will come to nothing, because there is nothing,” said Netanyahu, who has been implicated in a slew of scandals in recent months but has not been charged and has denied any wrongdoing.
Channel 2 said Thursday that three top police investigators are being designated to lead the expected criminal investigation of the prime minister, including one whose expertise is in white-collar crime. The main case against Netanyahu has been dubbed “Case 1,000” by police, while a second, more minor case is known as “Case 2,000.”
Netanyahu is the prime suspect, and there are “marginal” suspicions against members of his family, the TV report said. A preliminary probe has been running for months, the report said, with some work carried out abroad.
In June, Alsheich gave his go-ahead to the hush-hush probe by the Lahav 433 anti-corruption unit, but demanded full cooperation on secrecy and that no details be leaked to the media, reports earlier this week claimed.
Mandelblit also reportedly instructed employees in the state prosecutor’s office to look into allegations that Netanyahu accepted 1 million euros (about $1.1 million) from convicted French fraudster Arnaud Mimran in 2009.
Earlier this month, in an apparently unrelated case, there were calls for the prime minister to be investigated for his role in a Defense Ministry deal to purchase submarines from a German company partly owned by the Iranian government.