Barring Last-minute Surprise, Netanyahu Will Soon Be Questioned as Criminal Suspect

Law enforcers now focusing on additional information about Netanyahu. Fraud squad to probe suspicions of corruption, unlawfully receiving gifts and favors from wealthy patrons.

Netanyahu during a weekly cabinet meeting, November 13, 2016.
Emil Salman

It seems likely that Benjamin Netanyahu will be summoned for questioning under caution — that is, as someone who might be charged with a crime — according to senior sources involved in the ongoing police probe into alleged acts of corruption by the prime minister. Haaretz has learned that, barring any unexpected turn of events, investigators from the Israel Police national fraud squad will soon visit the Prime Minister’s Residence to take testimony from Netanyahu.

In June, Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit announced his decision to launch an inquiry “in the wake of information that has been received concerning matters regarding the prime minister, and which was presented to the attorney general by the police intelligence and investigations division.”

The probe was initiated in response to information culled from two intelligence sources concerning alleged acts of corruption by Netanyahu, mainly during the period from 2006 to 2009, when he was leader of the opposition.

During the police inquiry, some of that information was refuted, including claims of an alleged second campaign headquarters funded by tycoons, allegedly falsified results in the party leadership primary, and more. Other claims which were investigated included the existence of a mysterious money pipeline through which millionaires from around the world allegedly funded the Netanyahu family’s needs. According to the intelligence sources, the key figure in this was Ari Harow, the prime minister’s former chief of staff.

Since late last year, Harow has been under investigation by police on suspicion of falsifying the $3 million sale of a consulting firm, supposedly sold when he assumed his position at the Prime Minister’s Office. In light of the strength of the evidence, Mendelblit and senior officials in the prosecutor's office and the police investigations division hoped Harow would provide incriminating information against his former boss, and that he would eventually sign an agreement with them to turn state’s witness. As of now, that has yet to happen. However, another suspicion that was investigated, about Netanyahu and his family receiving gifts and favors from tycoons, has been partially substantiated.

Former Netanyahu bureau chief Ari Harow.
Marc Israel Salem

Meanwhile, Mendelblit also received other sensitive information concerning Netanyahu that requires further investigation. It is now the main focus of law enforcement officials. Police officials have long believed that investigation of this information should be accelerated, and that Netanyahu should be confronted with the suspicions against him, but Attorney General Mendelblit did not opt to do this. Legal officials have told Haaretz that the attorney general now shares the view that the time is ripe to question Netanyahu about this information, and probably also about the suspicion of unlawfully receiving gifts and favors from wealthy patrons.

This week, in response to a petition seeking to have a criminal investigation opened against Netanyahu, the prosecutor's office replied that an examination of the prime minister's case is in full swing. "It is a complicated examination in the context of which a lot of activities have been undertaken, " the response said, adding that this has been done to clarify the claims on which it is based and assess their nature. This has involved taking statements from dozens of people including some abroad, the collection of documents and other efforts.

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Netanyahu has repeatedly retorted that “nothing will come of the inquiry, because there is nothing to be found,” and insists that parties hostile to him have been plotting his downfall by making false accusations against him and his family since prior to his election victory. “These individuals in the media and their agents are relentlessly pressuring the police, the State Prosecutor and the Attorney General to open a criminal investigation against the prime minister. Their false claims are a total lie,” said Netanyahu.

The Justice Ministry declined to respond.