For the 12th Time, Israel Police Grill Netanyahu in Corruption Probes

The prime minister has been questioned 11 times before, most recently in August, under suspicion of taking bribes, fraud and breach of trust

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu looks out a train window as he participates in a test-run of the new high-speed train between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, near Lod, Israel September 2, 2018.
RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS

Police questioned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in two of his corruption probes for five hours on Friday morning – the 12th time he has been questioned in relation to the various probes. The questioning on Friday revolved around the so-called Case 1000 and Case 2000. 

Case 1000 alleges Netanyahu and his wife received lavish gifts from Israeli Hollywood entertainment magnate Arnon Milchan and Australian businessman James Packer as bribes for beneficial legislation and personal favors.

In Case 2000, Netanyahu is accused of offering Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper publisher Arnon Mozes advantageous government media policy in return for favorable news coverage.

In February, Israel Police announced it was recommending Netanyahu be indicted for bribery, fraud and breach of trust in the two cases.

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Friday was the first time Netanyahu was questioned regarding the two cases since confidant Nir Hefetz signed on as state's witness. The move strengthened suspicions against the prime minister, and releaved Arnon Milchen mediated between Netanyahu and Yedioth Ahronot publisher Arnon Mozes in 2009.

Since the case passed on to the Public Defender's Office in February, supplementary investigations have been conducted. After the economic and tax crimes district attorney formulated a recommendation, Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit decided to unite the three probes as one case in light of similarities between the cases, the repercussions of Case 2000 on Case 4000, which also pertains to positive coverage of Netanyahu, mutual witnesses and overlapping timelines.

Netanyahu was last questioned in August, with officers interrogating the prime minister for four hours in Case 4000, in which he is suspected of providing regulatory benefits to media mogul Shaul Elovich in return for favorable coverage on his Bezeq-owned Walla! News site. Case 4000 is considered the most solid of the three, according to legal sources familiar with the probes, with Mendelblit expected to accept the police's recommendation to indict Netanyahu.

After being questioned, Netanyahu proclaimed the probe has "finally collapsed."

Officials close to Mendelblit have so far posited decisions will be made on the cases in early 2019, around the time early elections are expected to be called.

Despite the consensus in the Justice Ministry regarding Mendelblit's decision to indict Netanyahu, the hearings are expected to take place following the elections, with the final verdict dragging out to 2020.

In August, the Tel Aviv district attorney for economic and tax crimes said it will take “months” before the investigations would be completed. Liat Ben Ari was heard saying that while the team she heads works quickly and with resolve, State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan and Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit delay their decisions for many weeks. For example, Ben Ari wanted to question a certain public figure and Mendelblit only made his decision after two months. 

According to Ben Ari, as quoted by a source, this conduct is unintentional, the result of the heavy work load of senior Justice Ministry officials. Nevertheless, she expressed frustration with the pace of progress in the investigations.