Israeli PM faces corruption charges after Packer’s gifts
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be indicted on corruption charges, including allegations he took tens of thousands of dollars' worth of gifts from Australian gaming billionaire James Packer.
Mr Netanyahu was indicted late on Thursday Israel time in relation to three cases in which he is alleged to have received gifts or benefits in return for favours.
In one matter, Case 1000, Mr Netanyahu is alleged to have taken expensive gifts from Mr Packer and his friend and business associate, the Israeli-born Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan.
According to the indictment, Mr Packer provided champagne and cigars to Mr Netanyahu and his wife Sara so regularly it was akin to a "delivery line".
On some occasions, it is alleged, Mr Netanyahu and his family were allowed to help themselves from Mr Packer's home when he wasn't there.
Israeli Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit released a 57-page indictment outlining the case against Mr Netanyahu, who is due to go to the polls in Israel's general elections in less than six weeks' time.
According to the Attorney-General, Mr Packer is alleged to have provided the gifts to Mr Netanyahu between the years 2014 and 2016.
Mr Packer was living in Israel at the time and had a house next door to Mr Netanyahu and his wife Sara in Caesarea, Israel's most expensive seaside town, an hour from Tel Aviv.
According to the indictment, Mr Packer supplied the Netanyahus with a total of $56,636 worth of fine cigars, and $33,516 worth of champagne. Mr Milchan is alleged to have also provided gifts, mainly of champagne and cigars, worth a total of $185,870 between 2011-2016.
Mr Packer has not been charged and the Israelis make no suggestion of wrong-doing against him. Mr Milchan has also not been charged. The indictment does not suggest Mr Packer received favours, but alleges that Mr Netanyahu used his position to assist Mr Milchan on several occasions.
This includes that Mr Netanyahu twice lobbied the American Government to give Mr Milchan a visa, and that he approached the then-Israeli Minister of Finance to have Mr Milchan's status as a tax-free newcomer to Israel extended.
Mr Netanyahu is also alleged to have approached the chief of the Ministry of Communications to help Mr Milchan discover how much various Israeli media groups were worth, with the intention of buying them.
Mr Packer and Mr Milchan, a former Israeli intelligence officer, have extensive personal and business ties. Mr Packer's father, the late Kerry Packer, owed a quarter-share of Mr Milchan's movie production house in the 1990s.
James Packer also invested in Mr Milchan's security company, Blue Sky International.
The Australian gaming billionaire, who now lives mainly on his polo ranch in Argentina, was interviewed by police in Australia about the gifts back in November 2017. The indictment makes no mention of the tickets provided to a concert performed by Mr Packer's then-fiancee, pop star Mariah Carey.
Mr Netanyahu has been charged with fraud and breach of trust in relation to the gifts given by Mr Packer and Mr Milchan.
The Prime Minister is now Israel's first political leader to face criminal charges while in office. He is under no legal obligation to stand aside unless he is convicted. The case is expected to take up to a year to resolve and will cast a heavy pall over the upcoming election on April 9.
Mr Netanyahu was also charged with fraud and breach of trust in a second matter, known as Case 2000. That case alleges Mr Netanyahu made a deal with a local newspaper publisher to damage a rival paper in return for positive publicity for Mr Netanyahu.
He is facing the more serious charge of bribery, as well as fraud and breach of trust, in relation to a third matter known as Case 4000. The allegation is that Mr Netanyahu made decisions that benefited Shaul Elovtich, the major shareholder of the Bezeq telecommunications company, in exchange for positive publicity from the Walla news site, which is owned by Mr Elovtich.
Attorney-General Mandelblit's written decision to indict Mr Netanyahu contained the allegations that the Prime Minister had "damaged the image of the public service and public trust in it" and was suspected of abusing his position and status, and of "knowingly taking a bribe as a public servant in exchange for actions related to your position."
Mr Netanyahu has always denied wrongdoing, saying he simply received personal gifts from friends. His Likud party said there was a "nothing'' in the case against him and accused the "weak'' Attorney-General of being pressured into the decision by "the media and the Left."
"The witch hunt against the prime minister began with an attempt to hit him with four bribery cases. Even before the hearing, three of those have collapsed," the party said.
In the indictment, which is addressed directly to Mr Netanyahu, it says: "James Packer is an Australian businessman. In the year of 2013 Milchan introduced you (Netanyahu) to Packer.
"In the years 2014-2016, Packer gave you benefit goods in a continuous way and on a large scale. "The benefit goods were given to you in connection to your public job and your status as Prime Minister of the Israeli Government.''
Out of 22 people on the committee deciding what charges should be laid against Mr Netanyahu, 21 recommended the more serious charge of bribery in all three cases, including in the Packer/Milchan case, according to Israeli news channel 12.
The single member of the committee who decided against the bribery charges in two of the cases was the Attorney-General himself.
"The (second) half of year 2013, Milchan introduced you to Packer,'' the indictment said.
"From that time on there was a personal connection between you and Packer that was based on Packer's admiration of you as Prime Minister of Israel.
"During the years of you knowing each other, 2014 to 2016, Packer gave you and your wife Sara Netanyahu benefit goods on a large scale and in a continuous way, in a large number of cases and in different ways, as will be specified.
"You and your wife have received benefit goods from Packer including: cigar boxes and cases of champagne bottles. These were given to you in four different ways.
"A: During social gatherings in Packer's house in Caesarea or at the house of the Prime Minister in Jerusalem.
"B: With deliveries made by Packer's employees to the Prime Minister's house in Jerusalem.
"C: With transferring benefit goods between the neighbour(ing) houses in Caesarea.
"D: With taking benefit goods independently from Packer's house by you and your family members while making use of Packer's house and his facilities during his absence.''
The indictment further states that the Netanyahus would lodge claims, or requests, for the champagne and cigars with Hadas Klein, Mr Milchan's and Mr Packer's personal assistant.
"The benefit goods were given to you continuously and frequently so much you can say they were a delivery line of cigars and champagne,'' the indictment said.
Additional reporting: Shakked Auerbach