Netanyahu's Cousin Hid Business Ties to Prime Minister From Police

Nathan Milikowsky was asked explicitly if he and Netanyahu maintained business ties and he denied it, despite the fact that the two were partners in the SeaDrift steel company from 2007 to 2010

Nathan Milikowsky, Benjamin Netanyahu
Michael Falco/The New York Times, Gali Tibbon/AP

Benjamin Netanyahu’s cousin, businessman Nathan Milikowsky, falsely denied to police investigators that he had any business ties with the prime minister, Haaretz has learned.

The state comptroller’s permits committee found that the two were partners in the SeaDrift steel company from 2007 to 2010.

Giving testimony in April 2017, Milikowski told police investigating the luxury gifts the prime minister had received that he and Netanyahu had no business relations.

He said only that he had given Netanyahu thousands of dollars in cash, senior sources close to the investigations said.

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Milikowsky was asked explicitly if he and Netanyahu maintained business ties and he denied it. Milikowsky did not respond to Haaretz’s queries in the matter. Netanyahu’s aides said he was a passive investor in the firm and was not involved in its affairs in any way.

In the luxury gifts case, Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit recommended indicting Netanyahu, subject to a hearing, on charges of fraud and breach of trust, for receiving benefits and perks form wealthy businessmen worth more than 700,000 shekels (nearly $200,000).

Netanyahu said in his investigation that he used to buy cigars for cash, and when he was asked to show evidence of money withdrawals – as he and his wife don’t hold credit cards – he said he received the money from his cousin. Following this statement police questioned Milikowsky and took his testimony.

According to a News 13 report last month, officials in the State Prosecutor’s Office said Milikowsky hadn’t detailed his relations with Netanyahu properly and that his testimony was “filled with inaccuracies.”

Now it transpires, according to senior sources involved in the case, that Milikowsky had concealed his business relations with the prime minister and denied their existence.

The sources said the investigators recently discovered that Netanyahu had pocketed a sum of some 16 million shekels in 2010 when he sold Milikowsky the shares he had bought in the steel company.

The discovery was made only recently because in the course of the luxury gifts investigation, police did not examine Netanyahu’s bank account or look at the capital statements he had submitted to the state comptroller. The suspicions focused on his receiving expensive gifts such as cigars and champagne.

Had Milikowsky revealed his business ties with Netanyahu, and in view of his cash payments to the prime minister, a suspicion of tax offenses could have been raised. Such payments could have been seen as transferring money between apparent business partners, rather than as a gift between family relatives.

During his investigation, Milikowsky also gave police details of his business affairs and ties in Israel.

In his interview with police, Netanyahu described the money he received from Milikowsky as “petty cash,” from which he used to buy cigars that were purchased for him by his staff or someone in circle. The police gave his testimony to the prosecution and attorney general, who stated at the time that there was no suspicion of criminal offenses being committed, even though sources involved in the investigation called the dependence on a relative to buy cigars as “smelling bad.”

The sources said that at the time the police did not have the information that the state comptroller had about the business relations between Milikowsky and Netanyahu. Nor did the prime minister disclose his business relations with his cousin.

During the investigations, police did not ask the bank for the Netanyahu family’s bank accounts. If they had, they may have discovered that Netanyahu had received 16 million shekels in 2010 for selling shares in Milikowsky’s steel company.

The attorney general is discussing the case of the prime minister’s shares and his relations with Milikowsky these days to determine whether to order a police examination, which could lead to a criminal investigation.

The Prime Minister’s Office said in response: “Aren’t you tired of this yet? The ink hasn’t dried on the election results, in which the public had its say and already the leaks festival is continuing. The prime minister was a passive investor in the company, his part in it was minimal and he wasn’t involved in its affairs or management in any way. The prime minister’s shares were sold as part of the whole company’s purchase by an external company. All the acts related to the matter were reported lawfully to the appropriate authorities.”

The relations between Netanyahu and Milikowsky, as reported in Haaretz and TheMarker, are not merely familial. Apart from the gifts Milikowsky gave Netanyahu, in the form of thousands of dollars in cash, it was recently found that Netanyahu had shares in SeaDrift until 2010.

The decision of the permits committee also showed that Netanyahu received from Milikowsky a loan to cover tax debts caused by selling the shares. The size of the loan is unknown.