Netanyahu Initiated Secret Quid Pro Quo Talks With Media Mogul; Police Have Hours on Tape

Police expected to question Netanyahu for third time soon, focusing on alleged quid-pro-quo deal discussed between him and Yedioth Ahronoth's Arnon Mozes.

Clockwise, from top right: Netanyahu, Milchan, Packer and Mozes
Olivier Fitoussy, Moti Kimche, AP and Bloomberg

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was the initiator of negotiations with newspaper publisher Arnon Mozes over a mutually beneficial deal, evidence obtained by the police indicates.

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This matches what Mozes told police, which is that Netanyahu broached the issue with him.

The alleged deal, which was never finalized, would have seen Mozes’ daily, Yedioth Ahronoth, granting Netanyahu more favorable coverage in exchange for the latter’s promise to curb the commercial activity of Yedioth’s main rival, the freebie Israel Hayom.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the weekly Likud meeting, January 9, 2016.
Emil Salman

Police have two tapes showing that the two men spent many hours discussing this idea. The tapes contain recordings of several different meetings.

Asked for comment by Haaretz, Netanyahu’s office responded, “Without addressing your specific questions, we are barred from commenting on any statements related to the investigation, even when those statements are incorrect.”

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All the conversations in question were recorded by Ari Harow, Netanyahu’s former chief of staff. The recordings were found when police searched Harow’s belongings as part of their investigation into suspicions that Harow’s sale of his consulting company had been fictitious.

The recordings were given to Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit about six months ago, but Mendelblit decided against ordering an immediate investigation.

Channel 2 television reported Monday night that police will soon question Netanyahu for the third time. Netanyahu’s line of defense to questions about the Mozes case is expected to be that Mozes was extorting him, so he decided to record their conversations.

During Netanyahu’s second interrogation, which also focused on the Mozes case, police didn’t play the tapes for him; they merely showed him transcripts. People who spoke with Netanyahu after his second interrogation said he was surprised by the evidence against him. “He didn’t expect it,” said a person who knows Netanyahu well.

In December 2014, the Knesset dissolved in advance of the March 2015 elections. According to various media reports, one of the Netanyahu-Mozes meetings took place before that happened, and another shortly thereafter. All the meetings reportedly took place in the Prime Minister’s Office.

Netanyahu’s first police interrogation dealt with a different case: suspicions that he received expensive gifts and other benefits from businessmen. During that session, Netanyahu was asked, among other lines of inquiry, about his ties with Australian billionaire James Packer, including the fact, first reported by Channel 10 television’s Raviv Drucker, that Packer hosted Netanyahu’s son Yair in his luxury suite in Tel Aviv’s Royal Beach Hotel.

Drucker’s report, published in November, also said that Packer had financed some of Yair Netanyahu’s trips abroad. This included flying him on Packer’s private plane, putting him up in luxury hotels and, in some cases, also paying for friends of Yair to accompany him. Packer flew Yair to destinations including Aspen, Colorado for a ski trip and let him stay in Packer’s home there, Drucker reported.

Netanyahu’s lawyer, Jacob Weinroth, worked to get Packer permanent residency in Israel, the report continued, while Netanyahu himself sometimes held weekend meetings at Packer’s Caesarea home, which is near Netanyahu’s own private residence.

Packer is the son of media magnate Kerry Packer, who, until his death in 2005, was Australia’s richest and most influential businessman. James Packer inherited his father’s media empire. After his father’s death, Packer moved away from the media business, focusing instead on developing a worldwide gambling empire. Over the past two years, he has shown increasing interest in business opportunities in Israel.

The media reported in August 2014 that Packer planned to build a hotel in Las Vegas on land where Israeli businessmen Yitzhak Tshuva and Nochi Dankner had once planned to build a casino. That project was scrapped due to the U.S. financial crisis.In response to Drucker’s report, Netanyahu’s office said, “Yair Netanyahu is a private citizen and a student who doesn’t owe an accounting to any journalist. Mr. Packer is a close friend of the family and of Yair’s, and as such, he has attended many of the prime minister’s speeches abroad over the years. Yair has every right to stay with friends, just as Drucker does when he’s abroad.”

According to media reports, Packer met Netanyahu through Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan, who also owns shares in Channel 10 and is one of the businessmen suspected of giving Netanyahu expensive gifts.

Milchan has already been questioned by police, and Channel 10 reported last night that police also searched his apartment and found receipts documenting his purchase of cigars and other gifts for Netanyahu. These receipts totaled more than 400,000 shekels ($104,000). This confirms Haaretz’s report last week that the value of Milchan’s gifts came to hundreds of thousands of shekels.

A person close to some of the businessmen in question said Netanyahu regularly asked them to buy him expensive gifts. Some were delivered at meetings, while others were simply sent to him by messenger.

Ben Caspit of the daily Ma’ariv reported that police questioned one of the drivers who delivered these gifts. Caspit also reported that Milchan cooperated fully with the police, including by giving them the relevant receipts, and that Netanyahu himself didn’t deny receiving the gifts, but argued that they were merely legitimate gifts between friends.

Milchan also reportedly provided Netanyahu with something else: an American adviser who has been secretly giving Netanyahu free consulting services for years.

In August 2015, Haaretz reported that Netanyahu had met with Milchan four times at the latter’s house in Herzliya over the space of a few weeks. One of these meetings was also attended by the leader of the opposition, MK Isaac Herzog (Zionist Union). Herzog claimed at the time that many people were present, but the building’s security cameras didn’t show anyone else arriving. This prompted speculation that Milchan was serving as an intermediary between the two men in their negotiations over forming a unity government.