Israel (GPA) – Israeli police arrived at the home of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu today for an initial round of questioning over allegations that the PM took lavish gifts from wealthy contacts in the private sector.
A large black screen was erected in front of the Prime Minister’s house today to shield Benjamin Netanyahu’s home from the gaze of onlookers and reporters this morning in apparent preparation for the arrival of Israeli police investigators. Although the police did not speak to journalists outside, the Israeli media says they are there to question Netanyahu in an ongoing investigation that accuses the PM of using his position to take bribes, illegal campaign donations and lavish gifts.
Today’s round of questioning is apparently going to focus primarily on the gifts Netanyahu is accused of receiving from businesspersons, possibly from several countries. It is believed that this line of questioning is related to a recent deposition of American businessman, and president of the World Jewish Congress, Ronald Lauder.
Lauder apparently admitted in his testimony that he had given gifts to Netanyahu such as suits and financed a trip abroad for the PM’s son, Yair. Israeli investigators seem to have reason to believe that Lauder was possibly dishonest, and that his gifts possibly include more and were used in an attempt to purchase influence. There are other allegations involving Netanyahu’s son, such as receiving other favors from Australian businessman and media mogul James Packer.
Allegations first arose in June when Israeli media found out there was a ‘secret’ probe launched into the finances of Netanyahu’s wife Sara and her use of public money for private expenses. Since then more allegations involving the Prime Minister and his family have arose finally prompting Israeli investigators to request that the Attorney General green light a full criminal investigation last week.
As stated above, this is likely just the first round of questioning for Netanyahu and it is likely police will meet with him again concerning a second set of charges that remain somewhat unclear. Other allegations include Netanyahu asking for specific “gifts” from wealthy individuals as well as trips on private jets, and illegal campaign donations from from the likes of persons such as convicted French fraudster Arnaud Mimran. Some claims go back as far as Netanyahu’s term as Minister of Finance – between 2003 to 2005 – and include more trips for the Netanyahu family paid for with public funds.
Netanyahu addressed the claims a few hours before police arrived at his home, at a meeting of his political faction, the conservative Likud party, dismissing all the charges as political maneuvering by opposition politicians and said they were “baseless.” Speaking as if he were a victim, Netanyahu addressed the media saying he saw “the spirit of celebration in the television studios,” but that his political enemies should “Wait with the celebrations; don’t hurry.”
Netanyahu was applauded by his fellow party members as he assured them that “There will be nothing, because there is nothing,” and that his opponents could “keep sending out test balloons full of hot air, and we will continue leading the State of Israel.” The leader of the opposition Zionist Union party, Isaac Herzog stated later that despite Netanyahu’s claims, he was “not happy for his misfortune.”
While it’s unclear if these charges will stick to the controversial Prime Minister, there must have been at least some convincing evidence to persuade the country’s Attorney General to officially launch the investigation. While many apologists will tow the Likud line that this is just dirty politics by Netanyahu’s many adversaries it seems to have some basis in reality. After all, is it really that hard to believe that a man who repeatedly blatantly and intentionally violates international law isn’t capable of doing misdeeds in his own nation.