Netanyahu questioned by Israeli police over gift claims

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Photo / AP
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Photo / AP

Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's Prime Minister, is being questioned by detectives on suspicion of illegally accepting valuable gifts from prominent businessmen in a scandal that is roiling Israeli politics.

Police officers came to the Prime Minister's official residence in Jerusalem today to question him about claims that he took designer suits and his son accepted free overseas trips from at least two businessmen.

Netanyahu denies any wrongdoing and has not been charged but the criminal investigation into him is one of several probes swirling around him and his family. His wife, Sara, was questioned by police in a different case just weeks ago.

The latest investigation involves claims that Netanyahu took gifts from Ronald Lauder, an American billionaire from the family that founded the Estee Lauder beauty products company.

Police have already questioned Lauder, who is also the president of the World Jewish Congress, and he admitted buying suits for Netanyahu and hosting his 25-year-old son Yair on holiday, according to Haaretz.

Channel 10 TV has reported that Yair accepted free trips and other gifts from Australian billionaire James Packer.

Israeli police reportedly suspect that larger and more valuable presents were involved and Israeli media said the gifts may be worth "hundreds of thousands of shekels".

A spokesman for the Netanyahu family said: "All the supposed affairs will turn out to be fiction. We are repeating: there will be nothing, because there is nothing."

The police visit sparked a media frenzy in Israel and Netanyahu's aides erected black screens to stop waiting photographers from getting pictures of investigators arriving at the residence.

Netanyahu has so far weathered the political storm around the investigation. He began a Cabinet meeting by joking that political opponents thinking of buying new suits in case they are able to take his job should "call off their tailors".

Today he had another defiant message for the opposition, saying: "There will be nothing because there is nothing. You will continue to inflate hot air balloons and we will continue to lead the state of Israel."

The 67-year-old politician, who is on course to become Israel's longest-serving leader, has avoided prosecution at least twice so far in a long career.

During his first stint as Prime Minister in 1997 prosecutors opted not to charge him in a scandal over political appointments but said publicly that it was "a very difficult decision" not to indict him.

Three years later, police recommended charging both Netanyahu and his wife with illegally taking silverware, carpets and other items from the prime minister's residence when they moved out.

Prosecutors again decided not to bring charges, saying there was insufficient evidence.

Other political scandals involving Netanyahu and his family have ranged from the serious to the absurd.

He has been accused of a conflict of interest after it emerged that his personal lawyer was also working for a German company that supplies Israel's Navy with submarines. In 2013, Israeli media had a field day with reports that he was spending £1700 a year of taxpayer's money on ice cream.

Sara Netanyahu was questioned by police for nearly 12 hours in December for allegedly using state funds to pay for a caretaker for her father and for moving garden furniture out of the official prime minister's residence to the family's private home.

She denies any wrongdoing and no charges have been brought.

Police probes against politicians are common in Israel and Netanyahu's predecessor, Ehud Olmert, is in prison for corruption. Ariel Sharon was questioned by police over accusations he accepted bribes but the case was dropped and he was never charged.

- additional reporting AP

- Daily Telegraph UK

Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the day’s news, sport and entertainment in our daily email newsletter

SIGN UP NOW

© Copyright 2017, NZME. Publishing Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production bpcf02 at 29 Mar 2017 12:27:26 Processing Time: 603ms