Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu subject to full fledged criminal investigation

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Israeli police have questioned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for the third time as part of a corruption investigation into allegations that he improperly accepted gifts and tried to trade favors with an Israeli newspaper.

The Haaretz daily and other outlets say Netanyahu was questioned on Friday. Most details of the spiraling scandal have emerged from media reports.

Police are interrogating the prime minister for allegedly receiving gifts from high-powered Hollywood and business figures and separately over secret talks with the publisher of Yediot Ahronot, a major Israeli newspaper, for positive coverage in exchange for diminishing impact of a free pro-Netanyahu daily in 2014.

Netanyahu has repeatedly denied wrongdoing, portraying the accusations as a witch hunt against him and his family by a hostile media opposed to his hard-line political views.

Moshe Ya’alon

The police’s questioning of former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon in Case 3000 – the so-called “submarines affair” – might turn the preliminary probe into a full fledged criminal investigation.

During his questioning, Ya’alon said that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had direct and active involvement in canceling the international tender for the warships, and in awarding it to German manufacturer ThyssenKrupp, according to a Channel 2 news report on Saturday. The German firm is represented in Israel by Netanyahu’s personal lawyer and confidante, David Shimron.

Ya’alon offered the police details about the contacts Netanyahu held with German officials regarding the acquisition of three submarines and several other warships, all of which happened without the knowledge of the security establishment, according to the report.

The report added that Ya’alon tried to persuade the investigators that Netanyahu acted out of improper motives.

Over the weekend more details were revealed regarding other probes regarding the prime minister’s actions – Cases 1000 and 2000.

The police suspect that at least four more businessmen, in addition to Israeli-born Hollywood film producer and businessman Arnon Milchan, gave Netanyahu, his wife, Sara, and son Yair improper presents over a long period, Channel 10 reported on Friday.

According to that report, the businessmen in question told police that they gave the Netanyahu family jewelry. The premier and his family were questioned about the matter as part of the ongoing criminal investigation that police call Case 1000.

Milchan allegedly gave Netanyahu presents worth hundreds of thousands of shekels.

The producer told police he started giving the premier presents as an act of friendship, and later provided more gifts in what he called “a manner particular” to the Netanyahu family, Haaretz reported.

Milchan allegedly provided gifts upon demand and the prime minister’s family was in the habit of asking him to renew the supply from time to time.

Citing senior police officers, a Channel 2 report released on Friday said that the Prime Minister’s Office limited the duration of Netanyahu’s questioning to three hours at a time (he has been questioned three times, each time at his Jerusalem residence). The report claimed that Netanyahu was using the breaks in the sessions to consult with his lawyers, in a manner that could have interfered with the investigation.

The Channel 2 report also mentioned Case 2000, the police probe into the alleged confidential meetings between the prime minister and Yediot Aharonot publisher Arnon “Noni” Mozes. The latter, who was questioned by police six times, has reportedly provided investigators with more details that shed light on the affair and further implicate the prime minister.

Police suspect that Netanyahu demanded better coverage of himself in Yediot Aharonot and promised that in return he would help weaken the publication’s significant competitor, the free daily newspaper Israel Hayom.

Allegedly, in a series of discreet meetings in 2014, the prime minister proposed to Mozes to promote a law that would prohibit the distribution of free newspapers, thus damaging Israel Hayom.

Netanyahu has denied all allegations concerning Cases 1000 and 2000. Responding to Channel 2’s report from Friday, the Prime Minister’s Office issued a response: “We are witnessing a flood of false and biased leaks to the press that are intended to slander the prime minister and his family, and to change the government without use of the ballot box. Contrary to the false leak that you broadcasted, there was never a steady supply of anything and there were no demand or requests on the part of the Netanyahu family. What did take place is mutual gift giving among friends.”

The Prime Minister’s Office denied that it had set time limits for the questioning sessions, saying that “the duration of the interrogations was not set by the Prime Minister’s Office but by the police alone.”

Several Knesset members commented on the most recent developments on Saturday, with the majority of them slamming the prime minister and condemning him as corrupt.

Opposition chairman Isaac Herzog (Zionist Union), who was speaking in a cultural event in Yehud, said Netanyahu should resign, and called such a move a patriotic act. “Despite our political rivalry and our different opinions on many matters, you [Netanyahu] are an Israeli patriot who has done a lot for our nation and country.

“The facts being revealed in recent months are leading to the end of your political career. You know that, as do your friends and the citizens of Israel – and I am talking only about the public aspects, not the criminal ones that will be determined by the police.

“Do the right thing, as [prime minister] Yitzhak Rabin did at the time on much smaller matters [when he resigned in 1977]. Don’t drag the whole country to many months of embarrassment and internal division. Your resignation will be an appropriate, honorable and patriotic act that will be remembered.”

MK Ofer Shelah (Yesh Atid) said that “according to what Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich said, the investigation is nearing its end, and that is something to be glad about. A decision must be reached as soon as possible, and following that everything possible must be released, including the transcripts of the conversations between Netanyahu and Noni Mozes. I don’t judge based on leaks, but if what was published is true, then the prime minister’s version about ‘mutual gifts among friends’ goes against the logic of every sane listener.”

Meretz chairwoman Zehava Gal- On offered an even stronger reproof of the premier and took to social media to express her critique. In a Facebook post on Saturday, Gal-On lambasted Netanyahu, saying: “Did you think that the ‘gifts affair’ ends with Arnon Milchan? Well, you’re mistaken.”

Referring to the Channel 10 report, she wrote: “Pay attention: Netanyahu never reported these presents. He never thought, not even once, to limit himself from dealing with the affairs of the tycoons who spoiled him. So, if according to him there’s no problem in ‘receiving gifts from friends’ and everything really is legal and proper, the time has come for the prime minister to tell the public exactly who he received the presents from, when and why. There is no reason for us to wait for the media and the police to reveal another confidante and another piece of jewelry.

Mexico

Mexico’s government rebuked Israel on Saturday for a tweet by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that appeared to applaud US President Donald Trump’s plan to build a border wall with Mexico to keep out illegal immigrants.

Netanyahu said on Twitter earlier on Saturday: “President Trump is right. I built a wall along Israel’s southern border. It stopped all illegal immigration. Great success. Great idea.”

The comment was swiftly rejected by leaders of the Jewish community in Mexico, and prompted an unusually blunt statement from Mexico’s foreign ministry.

“The Foreign Ministry expressed to the government of Israel, via its ambassador in Mexico, its profound astonishment, rejection and disappointment over Prime Minister Netanyahu’s message on Twitter about the construction of a border wall,” the ministry’s statement.

“Mexico is a friend of Israel and should be treated as such by its Prime Minister,” it said, noting that Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray expressed his deep affection for Israel in an event marking Holocaust memorial day on Friday.

Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon said on Twitter Netanyahu had been referring to his country’s “specific security experience” and that Israel was not voicing an opinion on US-Mexican relations.

Mexico’s government and Trump have been locked in a bitter dispute over his election campaign promise to build a wall on the US southern border that he says Mexico will pay for. Mexico has repeatedly said it will not pay for the wall.

The Central Committee of the Jewish Community in Mexico issued a statement saying it “forcefully rejected” Netanyahu’s comment, while several prominent Mexicans of Jewish origin sharply criticized the Israeli leader on Twitter.

“So you like walls @netanyahu? Here you have a couple of nice designs,” said Mony de Swaan, a former head of the Mexican telecommunications regulator, posting images of walls commemorating Bergen-Belsen, the Nazi concentration camp where diarist Anne Frank died, and the Warsaw Ghetto.

On Thursday, Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto cancelled a visit to meet Trump next week after the American advised him to forgo the trip if he was not willing to pay for the wall.

The leaders pledged to work out their differences in a call on Friday morning, and the Mexican government said the two had agreed not to discuss the issue of payment for now.