Police: Benjamin Netanyahu ‘suspected of bribery, fraud and breach of trust’

The Israeli Prime Minister is accused of accepting gifts from a billionaire and trying to make a covert deal with a newspaper owner

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday tweeted his "deep appreciation for the work of Ambassador Mansour who represents Israel in Panama". Ariel Schalit / Reuters
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Benjamin Netanyahu is suspected of having committed bribery, fraud and breach of trust, Israeli police have publicly confirmed for the first time.

The news was revealed as Israeli Police requested a gag order prohibiting news media from reporting on the ongoing talks to secure a state witness to testify against Mr Netanyahu. The gag order was granted and lasts until September 17.

Police investigators have questioned Netanyahu several times and have also interviewed some of the prime minister’s friends and associates.

Mr Netanyahu, Israel’s second-longest serving prime minister, is accused of offering commercial favours to a newspaper owner in return for positive stories and of accepting bribes from a Hollywood billionaire.

A spokesman on behalf of the prime minister said: "We completely reject the unfounded claims made against the prime minister. The campaign to change the government is underway, but it is destined to fail, for a simple reason: there won't be anything because there was nothing."

Discussions with Mr Netanyahu's former chief of staff, Ari Harow, to secure him as a witness for the state were "making progress", according to Israel's Attorney General, Avichai Mendelblit. Mr Harow is also suspected of bribery, fraud and breach of trust, along with aggravated fraud and money laundering.

The accusations against Mr Netanyahu revolve around two separate cases.

The first, known as Case 1000, relates to his connection to Arnon Milchan, the billionaire Hollywood producer. Mr Netanyahu is accused of allegedly accepting lavish gifts, including cigars and champagne, from him. The prime minister is accused of subsequently lobbying

then US Secretary of State John Kerry on the billionaire’s behalf while he was trying to acquire a new US visa.

Mr Netanyahu’s lawyer, Yaakov Weinroth, is previously reported to have said:  “Any reasonable person knows that there is nothing remotely criminal involved when a close friend gives his friend a gift of cigars.”

The second case, called Case 2000, includes accusations that Mr Netanyahu allegedly offered to cut the circulation of Israel Hayom, a pro-Netanyahu newspaper, if Arnon Mozes, the proprietor of Yedioth Ahronoth, told his paper to be more favourable towards the Prime Minister.

During the investigation of Harow, police found recordings on his mobile phone documenting the Netanyahu-Mozes conversations that form the basis of the Case 2000 probe.