Netanyahu Graft Affair: Israel Police Wanted to Question Kerry and ex-U.S. Envoy but Were Blocked by AG

Questioning former Obama officials on the case surrounding Netanyahu's relationship with Hollywood tycoon Arnon Milchan was too sensitive, Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit told Israel's Justice Ministry.

Daniel Shapiro and John Kerry in Tel Aviv, Israel, March 31, 2014.
AP

Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit objected to having police question former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and former U.S. Ambassador Dan Shapiro in the investigation known as Case 1000, in which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is suspected of methodically accepting gifts from tycoon Arnon Milchan.

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Police have been investigating the suspicion that Netanyahu used his influence with senior U.S. administration officials to remove restrictions on the length of Milchan’s visa to the United States, which is where he conducts most of his business.

The limitation was imposed after Milchan revealed in an interview he had aided Israel’s nuclear program.

Mendelblit told Justice Ministry officials that taking testimony from senior people in the administration of former U.S. President Barack Obama, who had tense relations with Netanyahu, was very sensitive and might not even be necessary for building a case.

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Arnon Milchan and Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem in 2005.
David Silverman/Getty Images

Haaretz has learned that Netanyahu, in his testimony, generally confirmed he had approached senior U.S. officials to help Milchan with his visa, but denied there was any connection between the gifts he received from Milchan his intervention on Milchan’s behalf. The police also have documents that testify to the premier’s intervention.

“In this situation the attorney general believes that there’s no real need to take statements,” said a source familiar with the details.

“We are still in the midst of the investigation and if it turns out that questioning one of the senior Americans is required, the testimony will be taken. But every effort will be made to avoid this step.”

Police sources believe it is necessary to take testimony from Kerry and Shapiro to complete the evidence and reach as clear, accurate and reliable a picture as possible with regard to the facts of the case.

This position was expressed even before Barak Ravid’s report in Haaretz last week that Netanyahu had angrily contacted Shapiro to demand that he resolve Milchan’s visa problem.

In the summer of 2013, Milchan was surprised to encounter difficulties when renewing his 10-year visa.

The reason was the interview he had given the “Uvda” investigative television program, in which he told of his service to the Israeli defense establishment and that he had assisted the country’s nuclear program.

The revelations led the State Department to reevaluate Milchan’s status, after which it granted him a visa for only one year. An associate of Milchan’s told Haaretz that Milchan approached senior Israeli and America officials to try to restore his 10-year visa, and that he had contacted Shapiro and other senior U.S. officials to protest the shorter visa he had been issued.

According to evidence obtained by police, Milchan also asked his friend Netanyahu to intervene. Police believe that Milchan allegedly gave gifts to Netanyahu and his wife, including a regular supply of cigars, champagne, and jewelry worth $10,000.

Ravid reported that Netanyahu met with Shapiro in Jerusalem in 2014 and pushed him to help Milchan with his visa issue.

One former senior U.S. official said Shapiro reported to the State Department that Netanyahu was the one who raised the issue and that he was very agitated about it.

The former U.S. official confirmed that Kerry received three phone calls about the issue between the end of 2013 and spring of 2014. At the end of 2013 Netanyahu’s envoy, attorney Isaac Molcho told a senior State Department official by telephone that “the prime minister wants to speak with Secretary Kerry urgently.”

A few hours later, when the call took place, Kerry discovered that what the premier wanted to discuss had nothing to do with the Israeli-Palestinian peace process the United States was trying to advance at the time but about Milchan’s visa.

One of the former senior U.S. officials familiar with what occurred said Netanyahu spoke aggressively and asked Kerry to intervene.

A former senior U.S. official said that Milchan, in his discussions with Shapiro and other U.S. officials, mentioned his close relationship with Netanyahu several times in his effort to extend his visa. Kerry granted Netanyahu’s request and Milchan received his 10-year visa during 2014.