Israeli PM Netanyahu's three-hour corruption grilling ends without arrest

Israeli PM Netanyahu's three-hour corruption grilling ends without arrest
Police quizzed Israel's right-wing Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu for three hours on Monday, as part of an ongoing graft probe that has shaken the controversial nation.
3 min read
03 January, 2017
The accusations against Netanyahu have shaken the political establishment [Getty]

Israel's prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu was grilled by police on Monday evening, as part of a graft probe that has shaken the country's politics.

Netanyahu was quizzed for three hours by investigators at his residence in central Jerusalem, under caution "on suspicion of receiving benefits", a police spokesman said afterwards.

The right-wing premier denied any wrongdoing and told his political opponents to put any "celebrations" on hold.

Police had been expected to question Netanyahu over whether he illegally accepted gifts from wealthy supporters.

The long-running graft inquiry has looked into whether Israeli and foreign businessmen have offered gifts worth tens of thousands of dollars as well as another unspecified issue, according to media reports.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit reportedly decided to upgrade the inquiry to a criminal probe, although he has yet to confirm this.

Earlier on Monday, screens were mounted at the entrance to the compound in central Jerusalem in an apparent bid to shield the investigators' arrival.

"We hear all the media reports. We see and hear the festive spirit and atmosphere in television studios and in the corridors of the opposition," Netanyahu told lawmakers from his Likud party on Monday, according to a video posted to his Facebook page.

"I want to tell them to wait for the celebrations. Do not rush. I told you and I repeat: 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."

Months-long inquiry

The probe has been carried out in secret for eight months and police recently made an important breakthrough, reports said. About 50 witnesses are said to have been questioned.

In July, Mandelblit said he had ordered a preliminary examination into an unspecified affair involving Netanyahu, with no details given.

US billionaire and World Jewish Congress president Ronald Lauder has been among those questioned in the probe over gifts he allegedly gave Netanyahu, including spending on trips for the Israeli official, Israeli media reported.

Lauder, whose family founded the Estee Lauder cosmetics giant, has long been seen as an ally of Netanyahu, who in the late 1990s put him in charge of negotiating with the then Syrian president Hafez al-Assad.

Despite this, Netanyahu acknowledged receiving money from French tycoon Arnaud Mimran, who was sentenced to eight years in prison over a scam amounting to 283 million euros involving the trade of carbon emissions permits and taxes on them.

Netanyahu's office said he had received $40,000 in contributions from Mimran in 2001, when he was not in office, as part of a fund for public activities, including appearances abroad to promote Israel.

He has also come under scrutiny over an alleged conflict of interest in the purchase of submarines from a German firm.

Media reports have alleged a conflict of interest over the role played by the Netanyahu family lawyer, David Shimron, who also acts for the Israeli agent of Germany's ThyssenKrupp.

Beyond those issues, Israel's state comptroller released a critical report in May about Netanyahu's foreign trips, some with his wife and children, between 2003 and 2005 when he was finance minister.