Tuesday 3 January 2017

Israeli Police Due To Question Benjamin Netanyahu In Corruption Inquiry

Benjamin Netanyahu

Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, was interviewed by detectives investigating whether he broke the law by receiving gifts from wealthy businessmen.

The questioning under caution took place at Netanyahu’s official residence in Jerusalem. The police team did not speak to journalists as they arrived. Reports said the questioning lasted around three hours.

A police statement after the questioning ended said “investigators questioned PM Benjamin Netanyahu under caution on suspicion of receiving benefits.” No additional details were initially given.

Netanyahu has strenuously denied any wrongdoing in relation to a months-long investigation into gifts received by himself and members of his close family. Israeli media said police were investigating whether gifts worth hundreds of thousands of shekels were given with the expectation of any benefit.

During a meeting of his rightwing Likud party earlier on Monday, Netanyahu said: “We notice reports in the media. We hear the celebrations and sense the way the wind blows in TV studios and in the halls of the opposition. Hold off on the partying, don’t jump the gun. I told you and I repeat: nothing will happen, because there is nothing. You will continue making wild allegations and we will continue leading the state of Israel.”

The investigation comes at a difficult time for Netanyahu, whose poll rating has been slipping amid a series of allegations concerning his inner circle.

Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, have weathered several scandals over the years, including investigations into the alleged misuse of state funds and an audit of the family’s spending, even including sums spent on laundry and ice-cream. They have denied any wrongdoing.

Netanyahu’s biggest rival, Yair Lapid, whose Yesh Atid party was ahead of Likud in the most recent polls, called for the latest inquiry to be concluded quickly for “the good of the country”.

Referring to drawn-out proceedings against Netanyahu’s predecessor, Ehud Olmert, who was eventually jailed for corruption, Lapid said: “If two prime ministers in a row fall from office because of corruption, it will be very hard to rehabilitate the public’s trust in its leadership. I want to remind the members of the opposition and the media that the presumption of innocent applies to every Israeli, including the prime minister. We need to let the police do their work.”

Naftali Bennett, another of Netanyahu’s rivals and an ally in his coalition government, said: “The prime minister should not resign because an investigation was launched. An investigation can end with nothing coming out of it.”

Police have been carrying out the current inquiry in secret for eight months and were recently reported to have made a breakthrough.

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In July, Israel’s attorney general said he had ordered a preliminary examination into an unspecified affair involving Netanyahu, with no details given. The Haaretz newspaper reported that billionaire Ronald Lauder, a longtime friend of Netanyahu’s, was linked to the affair.

In October, Lauder was summoned by police for questioning “related to a certain investigation conducted by them and in which Mr Lauder is not its subject matter,” said Helena Beilin, Lauder’s Israeli attorney. “After a short meeting, he was told that his presence is no longer required and that there shall be no further need for additional meetings.”

Netanyahu has acknowledged receiving money from Arnaud Mimran, a French tycoon who was sentenced to eight years in prison over a €283m scam involving the trade of carbon emissions permits and the taxes on them.

Netanyahu’s office said he had received $40,000 in contributions from Mimran in 2001, when he was not in office, as part of a fund for public activities, including appearances abroad to promote Israel.

Netanyahu has also faced scrutiny over the purchase of submarines from the German firm ThyssenKrupp. Media reports have alleged a conflict of interest as the Netanyahu family lawyer, David Shimron, acts for the Israeli agent of ThyssenKrupp.

In May, Israel’s state comptroller released a critical report on Netanyahu’s foreign trips, some with his wife and children, between 2003 and 2005 when he was finance minister.

Netanyahu, 67, is in his fourth term as prime minister and currently heads what is seen as the most rightwing government in Israeli history. He has served as premier for a total of nearly 11 years, fast approaching the revered founding father David Ben-Gurion’s 13 years.

Polls have shown that if elections were held now, his Likud party would finish behind the centrist Yesh Atid, but that voters would still prefer Netanyahu as prime minister.

The inquiry has led to fierce debates in Israeli politics, with Netanyahu’s allies accusing opposition politicians and some in the news media of unfairly pressuring the attorney general, Avichai Mandelblit.

On Monday, the regional cooperation minister, Tzachi Hanegbi, denounced what he called a “campaign of provocation and incitement” against Mandelblit. However, others have accused Mandelblit of moving too slowly in the highly charged case.



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