Police question Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu in corruption probe

PM Benjamin Netanyau

Israeli police are questioning prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu over corruption allegations, local media has reported after police cars arrived at his residence.

The police team did not speak to journalists but Israeli media said they are looking into suspicions that Mr Netanyahu inappropriately accepted expensive gifts from two businessmen. The reports said the initial questioning, which began on Monday evening, could last several hours.

A black screen was earlier placed in front of the building in apparent anticipation of the investigators’ arrival and to obstruct the view of journalists seeking to film them.

Mr Netanyahu has denied what he calls “baseless” reports that he received inappropriate gifts, a point he reiterated at a meeting of his Likud faction earlier on Monday.

“We’ve been paying attention to reports in the media, we are hearing the celebratory mood and the atmosphere in the television studios and the corridors of the opposition, and I would like to tell them, stop with the celebrations, don’t rush,” he said. “There won’t be anything because there is nothing.”

Israel’s Channel 2 TV has reported that Mr Netanyahu accepted “favours” from businessmen in Israel and abroad, and that he is the central suspect in a second investigation that also involves family members.

The Haaretz daily said billionaire Ronald Lauder, a longtime friend of Mr Netanyahu, was linked to the affair. Channel 10 TV has reported that Mr Netanyahu’s eldest son, Yair, accepted free trips and other gifts from Australian billionaire James Packer.

In October, Mr Lauder was summoned by police for questioning “related to a certain investigation conducted by them and in which Mr Lauder is not its subject matter”, said his lawyer Helena Beilin.

“After a short meeting, he was told that his presence is no longer required and that there shall be no further need for additional meetings,” she added.

Israel’s Justice Ministry and police have declined to comment on the media reports.

A campaign is under way by Erel Margalit, an opposition politician of the Zionist Union party, for Mr Netanyahu to be formally investigated over suspicions of prominent donors improperly transferring money for the PM’s personal use, as well as reports that Mr Netanyahu’s personal lawyer represented a German firm involved in a £1.2 billion sale of submarines to Israel.

The prime minister has long been saddled with an image as a cigar-smoking, cognac-drinking socialite, while opponents have portrayed both he and his wife Sara as being out of touch with the struggles of average Israelis.

The Netanyahus have denied any wrongdoing, and say they are the target of a witch hunt by the Israeli media.

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