A report in Haaretz Sunday claims that police have recordings of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu making “backroom deals” with friends and supporters. In the “deals,” Netanyahu allegedly promised to perform a service for an acquaintance who gave him a gift. According to Haaretz, the footage is a “breakthrough piece of evidence” that will advance the case against the prime minister.
The report says that the recordings have been in the possession of State Attorney Avichai Mandelblit for several months. Acquaintances of Netanyahu said that he has viewed the footage, and was “surprised” by it.
Netanyahu underwent a second round of questioning Thursday night, with interrogators questioning the prime minister on alleged corruption charges for five hours. Police said in a statement that a second suspect had been questioned in the case in recent days. According to a report on Channel Two, that second suspect is Arnon Milchan, an Israeli-American businessman who investigators believe provided Netanyahu with expensive cigars over many years. According to the report, Netanyahu smokes cigars valued at between NIS 15,000 and NIS 20,000 per month. Each cigar Milchan gave Netanyahu is said to be worth NIS 100. He is also accused of providing Netanyahu with champagne, with each bottle worth between NIS 300 and NIS 400.
Speaking on Israel Radio Sunday, Likud MK David Amsalem said that he didn’t know what the source of the Haaretz story was, but if the intention was to force Netanyahu out of office, it was not going to work. “In a democracy you change governments with elections, not in a junta. Here in Israel we have improved on the system, we are trying to change the government not via a military junta, but a police junta,” he said, stressing that Netanyahu would not be indicted.
On the question of receiving gifts, Amsalem said that politicians are people too, “and we have friends. I buy gifts for friends and they give me gifts. I differentiate between my friends and business. Some people never get gifts apparently, maybe because they don’t have friends,” he said, referring to the authors of the Haaretz piece.
“The idea that there have to be separate standards for politicians is hypocritical,” Amsalem said. “I don’t have to get permission from the State Attorney to give my friend a bottle of whiskey. The law against receiving gifts is one that applies to business, but as a person the situation is different. There is no law that you cannot give or receive gifts from friends.”
In a statement Friday, Netanyahu attorney Yaakov Weinroth said that Netanyahu did not accept or receive bribes, loans or any other material benefits. “There is nothing involved that could be even distantly related to a crime, and when the prime minister presents his answers, it will become clear that there are no crimes involved.”