Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been quizzed for more than three hours by police investigators, opening what could be a politically-damaging criminal investigation into suspicions he improperly accepted gifts.
Mr Netanyahu has repeatedly denied wrongdoing but the arrival of the national fraud squad indicated questions raised about him are considered serious enough to merit an investigation.
Police said Mr Netanyahu was questioned “under caution”, a term signalling he is a suspect.
Police spokeswoman Luba Samri said Mr Netanyahu was questioned on “suspicions he received benefits”. She said there would be no further details released at this stage.
The police team did not speak to journalists but Israeli media said they are looking into suspicions Mr Netanyahu inappropriately accepted expensive gifts from two businessmen.
A black screen had been 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 said Mr Netanyahu accepted “favours” from businessmen inIsrael and abroad and that he is the central suspect in a second investigation that also involves family members.
The newspaper Haaretz said billionaire Ronald Lauder, a long-time friend of Mr Netanyahu, was linked to the affair.
Channel 10 TV has reported that Mr Netanyahu’s oldest 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 Helena Beilin, Mr Lauder’s Israeli attorney.
“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.”
Israel’s Justice Ministry declined to comment.
A campaign is under way by Erel Margalit, an opposition lawmaker of the Zionist Union party, seeking for Mr Netanyahu to be formally investigated over suspicions of prominent donors improperly transferring money for the prime minister’s personal use as well as reports that Mr Netanyahu’s personal attorney represented a German firm involved in a 1.5 billion US dollars (£1.2 billion) sale of submarines to Israel.
Thank you for helping to make Jewish News the leading source of news and opinion for the UK Jewish community. Today we're asking for your invaluable help to continue putting our community first in everything we do.
Unlike other Jewish media, we do not charge for content. That won’t change. Because we are free, we rely on advertising to cover our costs. This vital lifeline, which has dropped in recent years, has fallen further due to coronavirus.
For as little as £5 a month you can help sustain the vital work we do in celebrating and standing up for Jewish life in Britain.
Jewish News holds our community together and keeps us connected. Like a synagogue, it’s where people turn to feel part of something bigger. It also proudly shows the rest of Britain the vibrancy and rich culture of modern Jewish life.
You can make a quick and easy one-off or monthly contribution of £5, £10, £20 or any other sum you’re comfortable with.
100% of your donation will help us continue celebrating our community, in all its dynamic diversity...
Being a community platform means so much more than producing a newspaper and website. One of our proudest roles is media partnering with our invaluable charities to amplify the outstanding work they do to help us all.
There’s no shortage of oys in the world but Jewish News takes every opportunity to celebrate the joys too, through projects like Night of Heroes, 40 Under 40 and other compelling countdowns that make the community kvell with pride.
In the first collaboration between media outlets from different faiths, Jewish News worked with British Muslim TV and Church Times to produce a list of young activists leading the way on interfaith understanding.
Royal Mail issued a stamp honouring Holocaust hero Sir Nicholas Winton after a Jewish News campaign attracted more than 100,000 backers. Jewish Newsalso produces special editions of the paper highlighting pressing issues including mental health and Holocaust remembrance.
In an age when news is readily accessible, Jewish News provides high-quality content free online and offline, removing any financial barriers to connecting people.
Voice of our community to wider society
The Jewish News team regularly appears on TV, radio and on the pages of the national press to comment on stories about the Jewish community. Easy access to the paper on the streets of London also means Jewish News provides an invaluable window into the community for the country at large.
We hope you agree all this is worth preserving.