Israeli police grill Netanyahu for 4th time over graft allegations

Le Premier ministre israélien Benjamin Netanyahu à Sydney, en Australie, le 22 février 2017
JASON REED (POOL/AFP/Archives)
Probe centers around suspicions of Israeli PM unlawfully receiving gifts from wealthy supporters

Israeli police grilled Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at his official Jerusalem home for over fours on Monday in a long-running investigation into corruption suspicions, media reports said.

Public radio said national fraud squad detectives arrived at the city centre house shortly before 5:00 pm (1500 GMT).

Other media reported them leaving at least four hours later and said at one point Netanyahu called for a break in questioning to take a phone call from US President Donald Trump.

White House spokesman Sean Spicer said they discussed "regional security challenges" and that Netanyahu thanked Trump for his "strong stance on anti-Semitism during his joint address to Congress last week."

Netanyahu's office said they spoke about strategic threats posed by Iran, but it made no mention of the police visit.

Media had said that investigators were expected to interrogate the premier over suspicions of unlawfully receiving gifts from wealthy supporters, including Australian billionaire James Packer.

They would be looking for his response to testimony given by Israeli businessman and Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan, a friend of both Netanyahu and Packer.

Milchan also figures in allegations of improper gifts accepted by the prime minister and his wife Sara, allegedly including expensive cigars and champagne.

Left-leaning daily Haaretz cited a police source as saying Netanyahu would also be asked to respond to testimony given by his wife that conflicts with his version of events.

Haaretz added that there would also be fresh questions about an alleged bid to strike a deal with an Israeli press baron.

Police refused to confirm or deny to AFP that the interview was taking place or to make any comment on the inquiry so far.

Netanyahu has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.

Authorities reportedly suspect that over several years Milchan sent Netanyahu boxes of premium cigars and also gave Sara pink champagne priced at about $100 a bottle.

Also being probed is a suspicion that the premier sought a secret deal with Amnon Moses, publisher of Israel's top-selling newspaper Yediot Aharonot.

The discussed deal, which is not believed to have been finalised, would have seen Netanyahu receive positive coverage in return for him helping scale down the operations of Israel Hayom newspaper, Yediot's competitor.

The investigations have stirred Israeli politics and led to speculation over whether Netanyahu will eventually be forced to step down.

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