Police Looking Into Ties Between Australian Billionaire James Packer and Netanyahu's Family

Packer, who is trying to gain residency in Israel, has taken the first step and registered with Israeli tax authorities, minister confirms to Channel 10.

Australian billionaire James Packer greets Sara Netanyahu in the House chamber at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., U.S., March 3, 2015.
Australian billionaire James Packer greets Sara Netanyahu in the House chamber at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., U.S., March 3, 2015. Chip Somodevilla, AFP

Israel's police are looking into reports that Australian billionaire James Packer gave members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's family gifts and benefits, Channel 10 reported Tuesday.

The report said the gifts – which reportedly include tickets to a Mariah Carey show and expensive hotel stays – are under the purview of other investigations into Netanyahu's ties. It was unclear which investigations the report referenced.

Meanwhile, Channel 10 also reported the Interior Minister Arye Dery confirmed that Packer, who isn’t Jewish but hopes to be a resident, opened a file with Israel's tax authorities, a prerequisite to attaining residency for wealthy potential emigres.

James Packer (rightmost), Yair Netanyahu and Sara Netanyahu at the UN, 2015.
Mary Altaffer, AP

On Monday, details emerged on the ties between Yair Netanyahu, Netanyahu’s son, and James Packer, considered a close confidant of the prime minister.

It seems that the younger Netanyahu has received more than just a few free nights in Packer's Tel Aviv apartment, as was reported two weeks ago.

Channel 10's Raviv Drucker reported Monday evening that Yair Netanyahu had flown to New York in September 2015 along with his father's delegation to the United Nations General Assembly, and stayed in a luxury hotel in Greenwich Village – with Packer footing the bill. This is Packer's regular hotel in New York, and he rents a number of connected rooms there.

According to the report, Packer was also involved to some extent in Netanyahu's speech to the UN. In a letter he sent to his friends, Packer said he and Netanyahu went over the speech together and he even boasted about having a copy of the speech. According to the letter, Netanyahu even promised Packer a place in his entourage and a seat next to Sara Netanyahu. In a picture from the UN assembly, Packer can be seen sitting near the Netanyahu family with the Israeli delegation.

From the left, Israeli ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer, Benjamin Netanyahu, Yair Netanyahu and James Packer.
Channel 10

On other occasions the younger Netanyahu has taken vacations at Packer's expense, often on the billionaire's private plane, and sometimes even invited friends to come along too, Drucker reported. 

In August 2015, singer Mariah Carey, who was engaged to Packer before they broke up in October, performed a concert in Rishon Letzion in Israel. Packer bought large numbers of tickets valued in the tens of thousands of shekels and gave 10 to Sara Netanyahu, Drucker said, and another seven to Yossi Cohen, then head of the National Security Council and now the director of the Mossad.

The Channel 10 report two weeks ago said that Yair Netanyahu had stayed a number of nights last summer in an apartment belonging to Packer at the Royal Beach Hotel in Tel Aviv. According to Drucker’s report, Packer owns a house in Caesarea adjacent to the Netanyahus and Netanyahu occasionally holds weekend meetings in Packer’s home.

The original report also stated that a few months ago, Packer’s lawyer, Jacob Weinroth, met with Interior Minister Arye Dery and asked him to grant Packer, who is not Jewish, permanent residency in Israel. The interior minister is authorized to take such measures. Weinroth was previously Netanyahu’s attorney.

One possible explanation for Packer's interest in Israeli residency is the large tax breaks he might be entitled to as a well-off new resident.

Weinroth was quoted as saying that Netanyahu had never spoken to him about the matter. The report stated that Packer has yet to be granted residency status.

In response to Drucker's report, a spokesman for the prime minister said that Yair Netanyahu is a private citizen and a student who does not need to provide answers to journalists. In addition, the spokesman said Packer is a close friend of the family and of Yair himself, who has the right to be hosted by friends.