Police have grilled Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, for three hours on suspicion of receiving gifts from businessmen, as part of a corruption probe that has shaken the country’s politics.
Investigators questioned Netanyahu on Monday at his residence in central Jerusalem “on suspicion of receiving benefits”, a police spokesman said afterwards, adding there were no further details to give.
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In advance of the questioning, Netanyahu denied any wrongdoing and told his political opponents to put any “celebrations” on hold.
The justice ministry said in a statement that officers from a police anti-corruption unit carried out the questioning, adding that Netanyahu was “suspected of having received gifts from businessmen”.
The long-running corruption inquiry has looked into whether wealthy 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 has 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 legislators 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.”
Police have carried out the probe in secret over some eight months and 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 and alleged spending on trips for him, 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 Lauder in charge of negotiating with then Syrian president Hafez al-Assad.
Netanyahu has acknowledged receiving money from French tycoon Arnaud Mimran, who was sentenced to eight years in prison over a scam amounting to 283 million euros ($297m) involving the trade of carbon emissions permits and the 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 represents 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.