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Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, was questioned by detectives yesterday on suspicion of illegally accepting valuable gifts from prominent businessmen.
Police officers came to the prime minister’s official residence in Jerusalem yesterday evening to question him about claims that he took designer suits and overseas trips for his son from at least two businessmen.
Mr Netanyahu denies any wrongdoing and has not been charged but the criminal investigation is one of several swirling around him and his family.
His wife, Sara, was questioned by police in a different case just weeks ago. The latest investigation involves claims that Mr Netanyahu took gifts from Ronald Lauder, an American billionaire from the family that founded the Estée Lauder beauty products company.
Police have already questioned Mr Lauder, who is also the president of the World Jewish Congress, and he admitted buying suits for Mr Netanyahu and hosting his 25-year-old son Yair on holiday, according to Haaretz.
Israeli police reportedly suspect that larger and more valuable presents were involved and Israeli media said the gifts may be worth “hundreds of thousands of shekels”. A British pound is worth 4.7 shekels.
A spokesman for the Netanyahu family said: “All the supposed affairs will turn out to be fiction. We are repeating: there will be nothing, because there is nothing.”
The police visit prompted a media frenzy in Israel and Mr Netanyahu’s aides erected black screens to stop waiting photographers from getting pictures of investigators arriving at the residence.
Mr Netanyahu has so far weathered the political storm around the investigation. He began a cabinet meeting by joking that political opponents thinking of buying new suits in case they are able to take his job should “call off their tailors”.
The 67-year-old politician, who is on course to become Israel’s longest-serving leader, has avoided prosecution at least twice so far in a long career.
During his first stint as prime minister in 1997 prosecutors opted not to charge him in a scandal over political appointments but said publicly that it was “a very difficult decision” not to indict him.
Three years later, police recommended charging both Mr Netanyahu and his wife Sara with illegally taking silverware, carpets and other items from the prime minister’s residence when they moved out.
Prosecutors again decided not to bring charges, saying there was insufficient evidence.
2017.01.03 / 11:59