Police Questioning Netanyahu About Suspicions of Graft

PM and his family allegedly received gifts worth hundreds of thousands of shekels from businesspeople. 'Don't celebrate yet,' Netanyahu says before police interrogation.

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Police investigators arrived Monday evening to the Prime Minister's Residence in Jerusalem to question Benjamin Netanyahu about suspicions of graft.

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Hours before he was to be questioned, Netanyahu cautioned critics on Monday "don't celebrate yet."

"Nothing will come [of this investigation] and you will continue to spew out  hot air," Netanyahu said.

Police were expected to question Netanyahu over suspicions he and his family received gifts and other benefits worth hundreds of thousands of shekels from businesspeople.

Netanyahu during a Likud faction meeting, January 2, 2016.Credit: Emil Salman

Both Channel 2 and Channel 10 television reported Sunday night that the interrogation is expected to take place Monday at the prime minister’s residence. Channel 2 said no time limit has been set for the questioning.

For days, police have been trying without success to coordinate a time with the Prime Minister's Bureau to question Netanyahu. On Sunday both sides finally agreed it would take place this week, without setting a specific time.

The interrogation focuses on the less serious of two cases involving Netanyahu that police are looking into – suspicions that he and his family received gifts and other benefits worth hundreds of thousands of shekels from businesspeople.

As Haaretz previously reported, police have deposed witnesses abroad as well as in Israel about the case. One witness whose deposition led to a breakthrough was Jewish American businessman Ron Lauder, a longtime friend of Netanyahu’s.

But police believe the value of gifts given by Lauder to Netanyahu is greater than what he admitted to and that they were not given in friendship, but in hopes of gaining some benefit.

Police are hoping their interrogation of Netanyahu will also shed additional light on a second more serious case whose full details have not yet been made public, sources privy to the investigation say. Details of this case were presented to Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit a few months ago.

Netanyahu has strongly denied all the allegations against him.

“All previous so-called affairs have proved baseless and so it will be with the allegations now published in the media,” Netanyahu said on Friday. “They won’t come to anything, because there isn’t anything.”

Knesset Member David Amsalem, chairman of the Knesset Interior and Environment Committee, and a member of Netanyahu’s Likud party, lashed out at the police’s investigations and intelligence department in a Facebook post on Sunday, as taking steps that amount to political persecution of the prime minister.

 “The police’s conduct is different when it comes to investigations of the prime minister,” wrote Amsalem, whose committee oversees the police. “With regard to ordinary people, the police lack motivation. I assume that if Netanyahu weren’t prime minister, they wouldn’t summon his son to check if he’d been invited to some hotel or other. 

 “There’s an entire enormous army here that’s trying to replace the prime minister,” he continued. “In my opinion, there’s also funding from abroad. They’re doing everything possible in order to oust Netanyahu and bring the left-wing agenda to power. 

“The situation we’re witnessing is unbelievable. You replace a prime minister at the polls, not via Meni Yitzhaki,” Amsalem wrote, referring to the head of the investigations department.

Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid also addressed the investigation on Monday. During a Knesset faction meeting he said that he “Wishes that no flaw is found in Bibi’s behavior," referring to Netanyahu by his nickname.

“If two prime ministers go down because of corruption, it will be difficult to restore people’s trust in politics,” Lapid said, referring to former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s convictions. “Netanyahu has the presumption of innocence. For the sake of the country this has to be quick. We cannot allow what happened to Olmert – months and months of investigations – to happen again. I’m calling on everyone involved to finish this without dragging it out. Clear all schedules and let the police get to the truth.”

Opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Zionist Union) said, “This is a tough day for Israel, with a prime minister under investigation. We don’t have a bit of schadenfreude. The basic thing is that this is a state of the rule of law.” 

Herzog decried efforts to pass legislation that would give a sitting premier immunity from investigation and prosecution.

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