Israeli Cops to Question Billionaire James Packer Over Gifts to Netanyahu

The Australian tycoon’s version of events is considered key in the investigation

James Packer in China in 2015.
Justin Chin/Bloomberg

Australian billionaire James Packer will be questioned in the coming days regarding suspicions that he gave Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara gifts they were not supposed to accept, according to Israel’s Channel 2 TV.

Police representatives managed to contact Packer and get him to cooperate in the investigation. No specific time has been set yet, but the two sides are discussing the options.

Last week Haaretz reported that state prosecutors had identified a suspected conflict of interest involving Netanyahu, thus consolidating evidence for the existence of mutual ties between him and a tycoon who allegedly had given him some gifts in the past. Proving mutual interests and ties between Netanyahu and gift-givers, as part of a case labeled Case 1000, could strengthen arguments that he was in a conflict of interest even if no proof exists for anything he gave in exchange.

State prosecutors don’t consider the mere acceptance of gifts to be a violation of the law regulating gift-giving to public officials. They want to continue investigating the matter, in order to establish the existence of any mutual interests between the gift-givers and receivers. In contrast, the police believe that the evidence already collected is sufficient to establish a violation of the law.

Police believe that Packer financed gifts to the Netanyahus, adding up to hundreds of thousands of dollars, together with his tycoon partner Arnon Milchan. Channel 10 reported previously that Packer gave Sara Netanyahu 10 tickets for a concert by his then-partner Mariah Carey.

Last winter Packer’s yacht anchored in Israeli waters. Despite this, police investigators did not summon the Australian businessman for questioning. Since then Packer has not been in Israel and the police had difficulties in obtaining his version, which was considered the missing piece in the puzzle. Large gaps in time between obtaining information in Case 1000 and the decision by the attorney general and state prosecutor to proceed with the investigation led to further delays.

Former Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik gave testimony last week in Case 1000 at Lahav 433, the police’s police fraud crime unit. Itzik, who was Minister of Communications in 2005, was asked about her previous connections with the franchise for Channel 10, one of whose stockholders was Arnon Milchan.

Packer is considered a key figure in the gifts affair. According to police suspicions, he acceded to requests by Milchan to help cover expenses of the Netanyahu family. According to reports on Channel 10, Packer allowed Yair Netanyahu, the prime minister’s son, to stay at his residences in Israel and the U.S., flew him and his friends to vacations in his private plane and financed his stay at a New York hotel. It was also reported that Netanyahu’s lawyer Jacob Weinroth asked Interior Minister Arye Dery to advance a request by Packer, who is not Jewish, to obtain resident status in Israel.