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Suspicions in the main corruption affair involving Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are backed by a tape documenting alleged contacts between Netanyahu and a businessman over mutual benefits, Haaretz has learned.
At the heart of the affair, dubbed Case 2000, lies an attempt to make an unambiguous deal between money and government – not suitcases brimming with cash in return for a gas monopoly, or bank transfers to a secret account in return for franchises in natural resources or infrastructure, but the businessman's support that would help Netanyahu remain in office in exchange for huge financial benefits.
Even if this pact was only partly realized or was still in its infancy, the mere existence – and documentation – of such incredible negotiations demands an immediate criminal investigation. When the affair is fully revealed, the details will shed light on how decisions are made at the top.
It may be said that the affair is based on solid evidence that will be difficult to dispute, like that provided by former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s bureau chief Shula Zaken about Olmert: a series of tapes in which the prime minister’s own voice is heard. People who spoke with Netanyahu over the weekend after his second police interrogation over corruption allegations said he was surprised by the evidence against him. “He didn’t expect it,” said a person who knows Netanyahu well.
The details of the affair are sensational also because for many years Netanyahu has been perceived, and rightly so, as a stranger to the local swamp of crony capitalism, adeptly navigated by his two predecessors, Ehud Olmert and Ariel Sharon. A few years back, the man who admired the American trust-breaking president, Theodor Roosevelt, was not the cup of tea of the major players in Israel's economy. Netanyahu has been described in the past as a cautious man whose sins, while they might infuriate the public, were minor. When the details of the “Case 2000” affair are revealed, these perceptions could crack.
This explosive material landed on the desk of Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit back in the spring. After sitting on it for long months and withholding the information from the public with no justification, the attorney general hastened to plug the narrative beneficial to Netanyahu: The affair is serious from a public perspective and is borderline in criminal terms.
It's time to put an end to this spin and to two others making headlines these last few days: That Netanyahu is calm and certain that it'll all end in hot air; and that Mendelblit is a steadfast attorney general, who conducted a comprehensive, thorough and quick investigation. These two descriptions, aggressively peddled to the public by lackeys of these two intelligent individuals, are trickery and deception.
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It appears that the minor of the two affairs involving Netanyahu, the gifts case, is being received by the public with a shrug. The explanation may be the high threshold set over the last decade, when Israel watched in wonder as a president accused of rape barricaded himself in his residence, tycoons funneled millions into the prime minister's son's bank account, envelopes bursting with dollars finding their way into another prime minister's hands, a finance minister who topped off his bank account with labor unions' funds and a defense minister who stashed away hundreds of thousands of dollars and bought himself a luxury pad with money from tycoons.
Today, it appears that only a gas monopoly in return for suitcases of cash, or a TV franchise for a bloated bank account in the Virgin Islands under a straw man's name will wake the public out of its stupor. This is what Israeli society has come to.
Suspicions in the gifts affair come as no surprise. For years stories abounded of Netanyahu's tendency to abuse his status to receive funding from wealthy individuals in Israel and abroad for his luxurious lifestyle. This included first-class flights, hotel suites, expensive Cuban cigars, champagne and suits. Despite many reports since the early 1990s, about his parsimoniousness, his bizarre funding of personal expenses from the public purse, his fondness for enjoying the good life but not paying for it, Netanyahu continued in a behavior, which mainly showed dubious judgement.
In this affair, wealthy businessmen, above all movie producer Arnon Milchan, were allegedly asked to buy hundreds of thousands of shekels worth of luxury items for Netanyahu and his wife Sara. A report by Channel 10's Raviv Drucker that Netanyahu had asked U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to assist Milchan with his visa problems, proves once more that there ain't no such thing as a free lunch, and that the friendship between Netanyahu and Milchan was not just a warm, authentic relationship that happened to develop between the huge money and a top politician.