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Home Technology Netanyahu Is Questioned a Second Time on Corruption Suspicions

Netanyahu Is Questioned a Second Time on Corruption Suspicions

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JERUSALEM — Expensive cigars for him and pink Champagne for her?

On Thursday evening, for the second time this week, investigators grilled Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel at his official residence as a suspect in an investigation into possible corruption, the details of which have largely been kept under wraps.

The police said in a brief statement that Thursday’s session had lasted five hours and that Mr. Netanyahu had been questioned under caution on suspicion of receiving improper gifts and favors. He was also interviewed about a separate case, the police said, without offering any details.

Even as the questioning was underway, Israel’s news media were reporting about some gifts that had led to suspicions of graft.

A Hollywood producer and longtime friend of Mr. Netanyahu’s is said to have supplied him with boxes of cigars for years, the Haaretz newspaper and Israel’s Channel 2 News reported. The news channel added that the American-Israeli producer, Arnon Milchan, had brought Mr. Netanyahu’s wife, Sara, bottles of fine Champagne.

Jayna Zelman, a spokeswoman for Mr. Milchan, an Israeli intelligence operative decades ago and a producer of “Gone Girl,” “12 Years a Slave” and many other films, declined to comment.

Israel’s attorney general, Avichai Mandelblit, outlined the investigation after the first session of questioning on Monday night, saying it involved gifts and benefits that the prime minister had received from business executives. Investigators have gathered testimony from dozens of witnesses, Mr. Mandelblit added, some of them abroad.

Mr. Netanyahu has vehemently denied any wrongdoing, repeating the mantra that the investigation will amount to “nothing, because there is nothing,” and accusing the news media and opponents of hounding him. A political survivor who is serving his third consecutive term as prime minister and his fourth over all, he and his wife have come under scrutiny for years for what critics describe as a taste for the high life at the expense of others.

In an interview with Channel 2 News on Tuesday night, a lawyer representing Mr. Netanyahu, Jacob Weinroth, said that from what he had heard, Mr. Netanyahu could relax. The television anchor, saying he was trying to understand the dimensions of the case, asked Mr. Weinroth if the suspicions involved “cigars? Houses?” “No houses,” Mr. Weinroth replied. He did not address the question of cigars.

The police will have to decide whether the gifts purportedly given to the Netanyahus constituted normal generosity between friends, or whether there was impropriety involved and a sense that the people giving the gifts expected something in return.

The police said on Thursday that a second suspect, whom they did not identify, had been questioned over the last two days. They said they were unable to provide more details at this stage “for fear of obstructing the investigation.” It is likely that the questioning of Mr. Netanyahu will continue in the coming days and weeks; experts said the inquiry was only at its start.

Large black screens blocked off the prime minister’s official residence on Jerusalem’s Balfour Street on Thursday, making it difficult to ascertain what was happening on the other side. As on Monday, there was no confirmation from the police that Mr. Netanyahu was being questioned until the session was over.

But local journalists waited in the street like paparazzi staking out a celebrity hide-out, photographing and filming what they said were the investigators’ cars entering the screened-off zone. Mr. Weinroth, the lawyer, was photographed leaving in a car as the investigators arrived.

Mr. Netanyahu’s predecessor, Ehud Olmert, who is serving a 19-month term for bribery and obstruction of justice, was also said to have a penchant for expensive cigars.

(Why?)

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